JERUSALEM — THE mainstream of the Israeli political right has responded to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by acknowledging that the peace process they had sought to halt is now a historical inevitability.
They also have distanced themselves from the campaign of civil disobedience and vilification of Rabin and his government that is believed to have created the climate for his assassination by a religious right-wing Jewish student at a peace rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.
''That night will not only be remembered as the night Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. That was the night that the peace process got its final blood-soaked confirmation,'' says Yosef Lapid, a right-wing critic of the peace process and editor of Maariv newspaper.
Since Rabin's assassination, public sentiment has swung away sharply from the right. Only the extreme right-wing fringe has failed to express remorse over his assassination.
The mood of the right was captured by the remarks of a crestfallen antigovernment protester from the militant Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba near Hebron.
''I'm so sorry if I ever said a wrong word,'' said Elitzur Botavia, who was a virulent critic of Rabin.
''These were words ... but to come to murder ... to killing ... what have we come to? ... No land is worth this.''
The emotionally charged atmosphere prevailing since Rabin's assassination has also been defused by the official pronouncements of key right-wing leaders.
Right-wing Likud opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who had been one of Rabin's most outspoken critics, lost no time in condemning the attack as one of the worst catastrophes in the history of Israel. He pledged his support for acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres in his efforts to form a new government.
''In a democracy, governments are changed by elections, not by assassination,'' he said.
Wave of sympathy
Mr. Netanyahu had always stopped short of supporting the civil-disobedience campaign of right-wing Jewish settlers, but he stressed the need for people opposed to the peace process to be able to express their views.
Even the most extreme right-wing groups have been temporarily silenced by a wave of public sympathy for Rabin and what he stood for.
A teacher in a Jewish settlement who praised the assassin was immediately suspended from her post.
Members of the extreme Jewish terrorist group, Kach, who reportedly staged a celebration in a Jewish settlement on the West Bank after Rabin's assassination, have been roundly condemned by mainstream right-wing settler groups like the Council for Judea and Samaria, the Biblical name that settlers prefer for the West Bank.
''These are sick individuals who represent no one other than themselves,'' says Yehiel Leiter, a right-wing spokesman for the Samaria Regional Council. The council represents Jewish settlements in the northern part of the West Bank.
A change of thinking
Rabin brought severe criticism on himself when he said two months ago that retaining the Israeli-occupied West Bank as part of the Biblical land of Israel no longer represented the thinking of the Jewish mainstream.
The decision of the Rabin government to hand over large parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians in return for peace provided the focus for a wave of protests by Jewish settlers who form the core of the militant political right.
Campaign vilified Rabin
This policy brought Rabin into direct conflict with the most vocal Zionists and Jewish nationalists, who are determined to hang onto the territories that Israel captured during the 1967 Six-Day War, which they regard as part of the land promised to them by God.
Yigal Amir, the religious Jewish student who ended Rabin's life at a peace rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, did not appear to be acting on the instructions of any specific group.
But Mr. Amir had been influenced by the campaign of vilification that right-wing settlers and rabbis waged against Rabin and the Israeli government once it became clear that the transfer of large parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians was at hand.
The turning-point in the right-wing campaign came with the July ruling by a large group of right-wing Jewish rabbis that it was justified by the Scriptures to defy military orders and resist the removal of military bases from the West Bank.
The rabbis' decision opened the way for the civil-disobedience campaign by settlers and for religious soldiers to disobey orders and refuse to take part in the partial withdrawal of the Israeli Army from the West Bank.
It also placed many religious Jews who attend - or have attended - schools where religious study and military service are combined in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between following their rabbis or following their military commanders.
Ehud Sprinzak, a political scientist and author of a seminal work on Israel's radical right, says that, following the rabbis' ruling, the settler movement created a ''climate of hatred'' that made the assassination possible.
Rabin depicted as a Nazi
''In the large demonstrations of the Israeli right you could see the [extreme] groups and nobody stopped it. Nobody tore up their posters which projected, among other things, Rabin as a [Nazi] SS officer,'' Mr. Sprinzak says.
Israeli Interior Minister Ehud Barak has indicated that the government will crack down on right-wing resistance and will not allow the kind of public incitement that has been rife during the civil disobedience campaign in the past few months.