Hardliner who offered hope Peace hopes suffer setback

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The Independent Online
YITZHAK RABIN was the single most critical personality in the historic peace negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbours, a tactical hawk far-sighted enough to understand that Israel's strategic future called for a dramatic, but hard-headed, turn towards peace.

His assassination last night at the hands of a young Jewish fanatic marked a violent setback to the delicate process of bringing Israel into an era of coexistence with the Arab world.

Mr Rabin's death could fatally undermine the political momentum for a settlement with Syria, now the last major obstacle to the Jewish state's peaceful integration into the Levant.

The diplomacy of Israel's rapprochement with its neighbours depended on the chemistry within the Labour party between the tough-minded Mr Rabin and his more flexible foreign minister - and political rival - Shimon Peres. Israeli officials said last night that Mr Peres, as deputy prime minister, was taking charge of the government although they did not know the exact legal status of his office.

Mr Rabin had purchased hardline credentials which made the Israeli public trust his tough negotiating posture. By contrast, Mr Peres was unjustly viewed by many Israelis as a peacenik.

Accepted wisdom in Israel held that only Mr Rabin could sell to the electorate the painful, tenaciously negotiated kind of peace that could see Israeli troops roll back on the Golan Heights. The deal under consideration would involve Israeli withdrawal and demilitarisation on both sides. Security and surveillance would be provided by an international peacekeeping force.

But talks with Syria had been stalled while both sides haggled over the intricate military details. Mr Rabin was hanging tough but so was the Syrian president, his old foe Hafez Al-Assad. The Syrian leader has held out for every last inch of his territory.

The whole set of circumstances by which Israel came to make peace with the Palestinians, to sign a peace treaty with Jordan and to see the most remarkable detente in the region for half a century depended on the personal decisions of half a dozen key leaders - among whom Rabin was paramount.