Why Rabin will be mourned by no Palestinians

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Beirut - Did any Palestinians shed tears as they watched Yitzhak Rabin's funeral? "You won't find a single one," a survivor of the 1948 exodus said in Beirut. "For you, Rabin was the warrior for peace. To us, he was the man who drove the Palestinians out of Lydda in 1948 - 50,000 of them by our count, a catastrophic event at that time. For the West Bankers, he was the man who ordered the "bone-breaking" of the intifada uprising. You remember his peace-making with Arafat. We remember criminal acts."

It sounded ungenerous, cruel, after the grief at the cemetery outside Jerusalem, shown live across Lebanon as television stations lifted CNN's coverage of Rabin's funeral. But the tragedy of the Palestinians is not going to be mitigated by the murder of an Israeli prime minister by an Israeli Jew. The old Damascus rejectionists - the Palestinian popular fronts and the struggle fronts and the other corrupted revolutionary cliques of the PLO - were yesterday still mouthing threats against Yasser Arafat, who, according to the tired statement of the Ahmed Jibril's "General Command", will surely share Rabin's fate. But Mr Arafat's fate could be infinitely more long-drawn-out.

For, despite the predictable talk of rededication to peace, the man who shook Rabin's unwilling hand in Washington two years ago is unlikely to reap any benefits from the murder. As one of Mr Arafat's former political comrades in the Palestine National Council commented bleakly, he will be confronted by a new and weaker Shimon Peres. "Arafat will receive a visit from Peres soon," the Palestinian said.

"And he will appeal to Arafat for more concessions. 'We always told you we had to appease our right wing,' Peres will tell Arafat. 'Now Rabin has been killed and you realise how serious our situation is. So we need more concessions.' That is what Arafat faces."

West Bankers and Gaza Palestinians have little reason to believe in the optimism expressed by the dignitaries on Mount Herzl. Five thousand families are still waiting for their sons, brothers and husbands to be released from Israeli prisons. The remainder still have no idea of a "peace" timetable. Indeed, the repeated delays in implementing the accords so solemnly sworn between Mr Arafat and Rabin mean that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have any idea what the future holds. Mr Peres has confirmed a timetable for Palestinian "redeployment" and Palestinian elections. But timetables have been changed before.

And Rabin left Israel insisting that Jerusalem would remain its eternal capital - which is not what Mr Arafat had in mind for the final-status peace talks.

Yet perhaps the Palestinians are in danger of over-simplifying events in Israel, of falling into the same trap as the rest of the world, encouraged by statesmen and journalists to believe that the killing of Rabin is some kind of freak event. For Palestinians in Beirut who did not choose to gloat over Rabin's death, his murder represents the culmination of a battle between the theological and ideological pillars of Israel which began, in Palestinian eyes, with the capture of Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 war.

"Until then, the biblical Zionists were content with the political project of the Zionist movement for a homeland," Mr Arafat's old crony said. "But after 1967, these same people made real demands to live on the newly captured territory. There was a kind of unwritten alliance between them and the secular Israelis. They co-operated, up to a point, Rabin too. But there were two options and eventually they would come into conflict. We Palestinians ignored this inter-Jewish battle. Rabin thought he could be smart enough to compromise with both, seeking peace with us but allowing the fanatical, religious settlers to stay and build bigger settlements on our land. They didn't trust him or his 'peace process'. That's why he was shot."

The Hebrew-language press does not circulate in the Arab world but several Palestinian journalists noticed an article in Yediot Aharanot which stated that on the morning after Rabin's murder, "Israelis woke up in a different country". The paper, according to a Palestinian who can travel regularly to the West Bank from Lebanon, was right. "It is a crossroads. There have been important Israeli leaders who have died when the state of Israel was militarily much weaker than it is now: Ben-Gurion, Chaim Weizman, Golda Meir. But Rabin was murdered by his own people. That is the point. The conflict has reached an intersection. Things can never be the same again within Israeli society."

Or within Palestinian society. Under continued Israeli occupation, under Mr Arafat's rule and in the diaspora, the Palestinians can do little but watch this conflict play itself out, all the while fearing that Mr Arafat will accept more delays, less "redeployment", will demand fewer withdrawals in order to help Mr Peres survive. Meanwhile, those who are waiting for the "peace process" to collapse will rejoice each time a Yigal Amir steps forward. As Faisal Husseini, the shrewdest of Mr Arafat's stalwarts observed, Palestinian extremists and Israeli extremists "encourage each other".

Robert Fisk

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