Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 13, 1995

Report from Israel:
Rabin's Death Will Not Halt Peace Talks, Cohen Says

Steve Libowitz

     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

     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

Go back to Previous Page

Go to Gazette Homepage