Report from Israel: Rabin's Death Will Not Halt Peace Talks, Cohen Says Steve Libowitz ----------------------- Editor For months, Eliot Cohen had predicted that someone would take a shot at an Israeli leader. He just never figured it would happen when he was there. And he didn't think the target would be Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. "I thought it was more likely to be [Shimon] Peres, who is much more of a starry-eyed proponent of peace," said Cohen, a professor of strategic studies at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Cohen had arrived in Israel on Friday, Nov. 3, for a conference on the future of warfare. The next day, when the country shut down following Rabin's murder, Cohen found himself with a front row seat to history, remaking itself, once again, in the Middle East. "The entire country was in deep bereavement," he said, "reacting like they would if they had lost a parent or spouse or a child. People used the JFK analogy, and [Rabin's assassination] was of that magnitude, but it was different in nature. Cohen compared Rabin's role in Israel's history to George Washington because Rabin was forever connected to the founding of the state. "He was a military hero in [the 1948 war for independence] and in the [Six Day War of 1967]. And now he had become the primary force pushing the peace process." While it seems that Rabin's assassination was prompted, in part, by his government's policy of turning over to the Palestinians control of existing Israeli territories--some of which, as a soldier, he had himself secured--Cohen believes more complex forces underlie the attack. "Israeli politics has always been tough business, but it has gotten nastier recently," he said. "And Rabin had not made matters better. He hadn't reached out to the settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. There hasn't been an official detailed map of what lands and boundaries would come under Palestinian control. The settlers are nervous and want assurances. Rabin basically dismissed the concerns of settlers who felt they were encouraged to settle there by past administrations in which Rabin was a member." Cohen said the peace process will likely be slowed by Rabin's death because he was the prime force pushing it forward. But to what degree the initiative has been hurt is hard to say because many Israelis remain ambivalent about it. "The further away you get the better peace looks," Cohen said. "In America, it looks great. Even in [the port city of] Tel Aviv it seems like a good thing." He said in Jerusalem, however, it's a different matter. "There are eight or nine Arab villages within a rock's throw, let alone within rifle distance, from the new north road outside the city. There's a check point at the beginning of the road and at the end of it. This is the road that thousands of Israelis travel daily, and they have an existential feeling about their direct personal safety." Cohen believes if the Germans and the French can co-exist, anyone can, which is not to say that everyone will like each other. "Watching [Jordan's King] Hussein deliver a tremendously moving eulogy at Rabin's funeral, I thought who could have imagined such a thing 30 years ago. Rabin was the general who had stripped Jordan of the West Bank and Jerusalem." But it is the Israelis themselves, Cohen said, who also need to commit to peace. "It's not a good sign that [Rabin's wife Leah] started lashing out right after the funeral," Cohen said. "There is a profound need for reconciliation, of coming together and of retrospection. ... The assassination has opened up the gap between secular and religious Jews, between settlers and those living on the coasts. ... The right-wing religious groups are feeling defensive and guilty, the left is outraged and self-righteous. It's not healthy. "There have been breakthroughs," Cohen said, "and I think the peace process has brought dividends to Israel. It will be a long process over generations, and they'll be further conflicts. But there is now a precedent for peace, and the process is irreversible."
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