Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Rabin's Death Could Make Peace Politics Tricky for All

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Rabin's Death Could Make Peace Politics Tricky for All

Article excerpt

THE ASSASSIN'S hand holding the 9mm Baretta that killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is not strong enough to staunch the making of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

That's the predominant view among many analysts of the Middle East, reinforced for them late Sunday as Israelis mourned Rabin in sorrow that Israel's internal politics had grown so violent.

But at least one analyst - Michael Hudson of the Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies - contradicted the general optimism.

"I think it's a serious a blow to the peace process," said Hudson, who suggested that the negotiations with the Palestinians could stall.

"My guess is that there will be a period of coming together around the funeral of Rabin," he said, "but I don't know if that sort of unity-in-crisis spirit will last very long."

One complicated political element is the successor government to Rabin's. His foreign minister, now acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres - considered, not always flatteringly, to be the father of the peace process - is likely to be asked to try to form a temporary government until the next Israeli elections. The Labor Party of Peres and Rabin holds a one-seat majority in the Knesset, and the opposition Likud party is opposed to the peace negotiations.

Peres could strike decisively against the opposition by calling for early elections.

"If the election were held now, a lot of people would come out as simply a show of support for the slain leader," said Herbert C. Kelman, a Middle East scholar from Harvard University who is visiting Israel. "The thing to watch now is whether there is going to be some kind of national stock-taking on how things were allowed to go this far."

In recent months, Israeli politics have become uncommonly ugly, with Rabin labeled as a "traitor" and as a "Nazi" by some right-wing groups allied with Jewish settlers in territory that would come under Palestinian control in a peace settlement.

But Hudson of Georgetown predicted that once the mourning period was over, "the deep divisions that already exist in Israeli society will reappear in deeper form."

Peres, Hudson noted, does not have Rabin's stature and is suspect among even many centrist Israelis for his pacifist outlook.

The continuing confusion in Israeli politics and Peres' insecurity as a leader could impair other initiatives, such as negotiations with Syria.

Looking at deeply divided Israel and an uncertain leadership, said Hudson, the Syrian leadership could decide they "don't want to get involved with these people."

But other analysts paint a less pessimistic picture.

"I think Rabin's successor will move more quickly because there's really no way back," said Robert G. Neumann, senior advisor on the Middle East for the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington. …

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