A Warrior for Peace

YITZHAK RABIN's life had many battles. But the one he'll be best remembered for took place off the field of battle, in the halls of politics and diplomacy - his visionary fight to make peace with former enemies.

That thrust toward peace generated emotions as strong as those sparked by rockets and bullets. The hatred felt by those who rejected his vision of a land shared in peace with another people, the Palestinians, struck him down Saturday night.

The Israeli prime minister recognized that the greatest threat to peace was the terrorism and hatred that dwelled in the hearts of some on both sides of the Middle East conflict.

But he saw no alternative to pushing ahead despite those murderous tendencies.

The work he began must now be continued. As Mr. Rabin's teammate in peacemaking, acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres, said: A bullet may have stopped Israel's leader, but it cannot stop "the noble, beautiful idea of peace."

Mr. Peres, a tireless partisan of the peace process, will need some of Rabin's imperturbable drive. Peres doesn't have the leathery toughness of a general that served Rabin so well in advancing controversial policies. His is a much more dovish image, and opponents inside his own Labor Party are likely to argue that caution and force were Rabin's true legacy. On the other hand, the main opposition party, Likud, is likely to be constrained in its criticisms for a while. The far-right extremism of Rabin's assassin will be condemned by all. Within a year, Israel will have elections to sort out its changed political environment.

Arabs looking at Israel this week have to be disconcerted. Internal political violence has been endemic in some of their societies.

What does its surfacing in Israel augur for a Mideast where peace agreements and commercial relationships - not guns - should shape events?

Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, and others expressed horror and regret at Rabin's assassination.

The response from Washington was deep sadness. President Clinton and Prime Minister Rabin had their own close partnership, and friendship. As the president attends funeral ceremonies in Jerusalem today, his thoughts will be turning to ways of furthering his friend's peace initiative. Continued, wholehearted American commitment to the peace process is critical.

That process demands vision. Despite his often crusty exterior, Rabin had it. More than five years ago, with the Intifada still rumbling and himself out of office, Rabin recognized that the Palestinians were a people struggling to take control of their destiny - and that this could present an opportunity to alter the region's destructive dynamics.

Later, he acted on that insight. The greatest tribute to Rabin is to persist in the direction he set.

The greatest tribute to Yitzhak Rabin is to persist in the direction he set.

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