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ISRAEL: Rabin’s Death Drops Peace Process Into New Crisis

Deborah Horan and Yusef Ahmed

JERUSALEM, Nov 5 1995 (IPS) - The murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, apparently at the hands of a gunman from a Jewish anti-peace process extremist group, throws both Israel and the Middle East peace talks into new crises.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was confirmed as acting prime minister Saturday night after an emergency cabinet meeting.

Israel Radio said President Ezer Weizman would now have to formally invite an Israeli party leader to form a new government.

Under Israel’s Basic Law — the country has no constitution — when a prime minister dies in the middle of a term, the government effectively resigns and becomes a transitional government.

Peres will stand as temporary transitional prime minister until after Rabin’s funeral, postponed a day until Monday, to allow time for foreign heads of state to attend. Weizman will then have to hold meetings with the heads of all parties in the Knesset.

He will choose the head of one of the parties, probably starting with Peres, to form a government. He will have three rounds of 21 days to form a new government. If unsuccessful, Weizman will asks someone else to try to form a government.

“There’s no leader in this country today who has the respect and persona (that Rabin has) who can lead Israel through the peace process that we’re going through,” said Gershon Baskin, director of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information, who attended the fatal rally.

But he felt that the deeply troubled peace process would survive also long as Peres or Labour remained in power.

“I think the government is going to be more determined than ever (to move forward with the peace process) Now they have not only a platform and a plan, but a legacy that has to be fulfilled in Rabin’s name.

The alleged assassin, 27 year old law student Yigal Amir, who allegedly told police he had ‘acted on orders from God’, was arrested within seconds of the shooting. Calls to police claimed he was a member of a hitherto unknown Jewish fundamentalist settlers’ group called Jewish Vengeance or ‘En’.

The 73 year old Nobel peace prize laureate was downed by three bullets to the chest and spine at close range shortly after addressing a peace rally in Tel Aviv attended by more than 100,000 Israelis, the biggest rally in the city in years.

Ironically the rally had been called to reassert the shaky grip of Rabin’s government on Israeli public opinion, which has been deeply divided by the peace accords signed by Rabin with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

“I heard three shots and they pushed Prime Minister Rabin into his car,” witness Motti Sasson, mayor of the city of Holon near Tel Aviv, said on Israel Army Radio.

Rabin died shortly after arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital.

The alleged killer was said by police to come from the rich upper middle class suburb of Herzeliya, north of Tel Aviv, and to be associated with illegal settlers’ groups. He is now in custody.

Speaking in Gaza, a visibly shocked PLO leader Yasser Arafat quickly condemned what he called an “awful and terrible crime” and a “tragedy against the peace process”. He hailed Rabin, once his sworn foe, as “one of the bravest of Israel’s leaders and one of the true peacemakers.”

Arafat’s senior spokesman Marwan Kanafani told IPS in Gaza that the Palestinian authority would continue its work with Peres. Arafat and Peres had been scheduled to meet Sunday noon.

“The target of the assassination was the peace process,” he said, “but despite (Rabin’s) death the peace process continues,” Kanafani said.

The gunman is a law student at Bar Alan University, which is known as a bastion of National Religious Party followers, who are against the peace process because of religious convictions.

The radicals are deeply opposed to Rabin and Peres’ framework peace deal with the PLO in 1993, which was followed by a self-rule accord last September over occupied Palestinian lands that the radicals regard as biblical Israeli lands.

Dozens of such fringe groups have been set up to oppose the process and its intention to grant self-rule rights over tracts of territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. They have been increasing settlements on occupied Palestinian land in a bid to take over the land and wreck the process.

Rabin has pushed through the peace accord, offering land for peace, in the face of ever increasing domestic opposition.

Right-wing groups have swept ahead in the polls as bomb attacks on Israelis continued and talks moved on for a limited Israeli military redeployment from Palestinian areas on the West Bank.

The latest stage of the accord, signed by Rabin and Arafat on Sep. 28, cleared the Israeli parliament by just one vote, in a measure of the split that had opened up in Israeli opinion over Rabin’s pacts with the PLO.

In his last words in public Saturday night Rabin told the rally: “I always believed that most of the people want peace and are ready to take a risk for it,” he said.

The rally, titled ‘Peace Yes, Violence No,’ was organised by a pro-peace public committee headed by former Tel Aviv mayor and Rabin ally Shlomo Lahat that his spokesman said drew between 150,000 and 200,000 people.

“This is a pro-peace gathering in support of a government of peace,” said Rabin to the gathered thousands, “a government that was not afraid to make peace and will not be deterred from advancing peace.

“I always believed that most of the people want peace and are ready to take a risk for it,” he added.

The killing was immediately condemned by the Israeli opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu as a “horrendous tragedy”. His right- wing Likud party was seen as most likely to defeat Labour in next year’s scheduled general elections.

On October 13, the Jerusalem Post reported Rabin as saying that he was not afraid of right wing protesters. “I am not afraid personally,” Rabin told the Post. “I will not run away and they will not silence me.” At the time, Rabin blamed Netanyahu for inciting violence against the government.

Just before the fatal rally Likud had issued a statement distancing itself from reported plans by “fringe elements” to break up the rally. A handful of protesters attending the rally carrying nooses and signs bewaring the message ‘ A rope for the traitors’.

Reaction in the Arab world was generally quick to condemn the killing. “I think we’ll see an outpouring of real mourning from the Arab world, from the Egyptians and the Jordanians,” said Baskin. “I think that Rabin commanded a lot of respect from the Arab world.”

But in Iran, the Qatari news agency QNA quoted an Iranian official as saying “that the state terrorism practiced by Israel generates similar violence in retaliation”.

Contacted by IPS in Gaza, Emad Faluji, a senior member of the anti-accord Islamic Resistance or Hamas, said the organisation declined to comment on the murder.

Islamic radical groups had threatened to kill Rabin only a few days before. The Islamic Jihad group had vowed revenge for the assassination of its secretary-general Fathi al-Shaqaqi by the Israeli secret services on Oct. 26. New leader Ramadan Abdullah threatened on Wednesday to take revenge from Rabin personally in retaliation for the assassination of al-Shaqaqi in Malta.

 
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ISRAEL: Rabin’s Death Drops Peace Process Into New Crisis

Deborah Horan and Yusef Ahmed

JERUSALEM, Nov 5 1995 (IPS) - The murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, apparently at the hands of a gunman from a Jewish anti-peace process extremist group, throws both Israel and the Middle East peace talks into new crises.
(more…)

 
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