Six Years On, Israelis Wonder What Might Have Been, Had Rabin Lived - Continuation

As the Jewish state marked six years since one of its sons gunned down one of its founding fathers, Israelis paused to consider how the peace process might have differed had Yitzhak Rabin lived.

Official commemorations of the November, 1995 murder at a Tel Aviv peace rally were held Monday, the anniversary of the killing according to the Hebrew calendar.

As the day began, Rabin's longtime political rival-turned-peacemaking colleague Shimon Peres said that it was his "hope and assessment" that the bloodtide of Israeli-Palestinian violence could have been forestalled had assassinYigal Amir not succeeded in his plan to kill off the Mideast peace process by killing off the gruff, independent-minded Israeli leader.

But Peres - who became prime minister after the shooting - allowed that even Rabin, with his ironclad reputation as a military man, might not have succeeded in overcoming the hardline opposition of extremist Israelis and Palestinians to a peace plan archored in the concepts of trading land for peace and dividing the Holy Land into independent Jewish and Arab states. "Yitzhak faced an unbearable difficult situation, sharp opposition, and there's no point in ignoring that," Peres said.

Had the murder not taken place, might the peace process have taken root, surviving the political storms and violent spasms of the succeeding six years?

According to Ha'aretz commentator Akiva Eldar, the assassination was a turning point in the peace process in the sense that had Rabin lived, he might either have won peace progress with Syria, thus influencing the Palestinian track, or he might have adopted and pushed the diplomatic proposal drafted by then-Israeli cabinet minister Yossi Beilin and senior Palestinian official Abu Mazen.

The Beilin-Abu Mazen plan was prepared with a Rabin, not Peres, premiership in mind, Eldar notes. "It cannot be ruled out that Rabin would have accepted the concept of moving swiftly toward a final status accord, not letting the settlers and the right have a veto. In that way, he might have changed history." Peres and Ehud Barak were to reject the draft, opting instead for progress toward a comprehensive peace centered on an accord with Syria.

Had Rabin instead continued at a measured pace, in which there were "no sacred dates" and continued Jewish settlement, he would likely have lost the premiership to Benjamin Netanyahu, as did Peres in elections in mid-1996.

However, Eldar concluded, "I believe that Rabin had the courage, and the vision, to take courses of action that no one else would not have dared take. And at that stage of his life, he was open to changes in his point of view. At the same time, he was more secure in his leadership ability than anyone else, less influenced by opinion polls, advisors, electoral considerations, and the media."

Because of his wide strategic vision and an ability to look forward, Rabin might have raced ahead of the Oslo peace timetable and moved on to a next phase of peacemaking, thus sealing a peace before it was eroded and shattered by violence.

In the short term, however, the Rabin assassination may have actually spurred Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy process, said Ha'aretzcorrespondent Nadav Shragai. "The assassination enabled his successor Peres to carry out the handover of six key West Bank cities with enormous speed, and with an ease that Rabin would never have managed, because of the very sharp opposition he would have encountered from the Israeli right.

"The Rabin murder gutted the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary capability of the right to oppose territorial concessions and diplomatic accords for a very long time, and made progress on the Oslo model possible up until Netanyahu's election."

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