Optimism Rules
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The assassin has obviously not achieved his purpose. If anything, the fallout of the killing on November 4 last year has been exactly the opposite of what he had hoped for. More than two months after the death which traumatised the nation, more and more Israelis are pledging support for the late leader's peace plan.

Taking advantage of this, Rabin's successor Shimon Peres has moved at breakneck speed to implement agreements with the Palestinians and push through accords with his Arab neighbours.

Earlier, the country was split down the middle on the issue of Palestinian autonomy, with each Arab bomb attack hardening the stance of even the most dovish of Israelis. But Rabin's assassination changed all that.



"Israelis are now united as never before. While earlier it might have been 50-50, today more than 70 per cent of the population is behind the peace process," says Dr Yehoyada Haim, the Israeli ambassador to India. According to him, the Arabs have anyway been virtually lining up to strengthen ties with Israel since the end of the Gulf War. "I refer to the current international situation as the new world disorder. Only Syria's Assad is holding out and warning the others not to go too fast." The issue at stake is the Golan Heights, captured by the Israelis in the 1967 Six-Day War. The Israelis want security guarantees before a phased pull-out; the Syrians insist on complete withdrawal.

But things could be different now. During his trip to Washington from December 10 to 12, Peres hinted that he may be prepared to make concessions for peace on this thorny issue. The Israeli-Syria dialogue has now been resumed in a secluded estate near Washington amidst optimistic assessments all round. Peres has already indicated that "understandings" had been reached with the Syrians on a number of issues. The Syrian Ambassador to Washington, Walid Mualem, who is in charge of the negotiating team, also said that the talks were proving to be more serious than the previous negotiations which collapsed six months ago

 The resumption of talks is worrying Iran, which feels increasingly isolated in the region. Iranian Vice-President Hassan Habibi cancelled a recent trip to Damascus with Foreign Minister Ali AkbarVelayati accusing Syria of "humiliating itself".

There is a large Indian presence in Israel with over 50,000 Jews of Indian origin settled there. India also remains on all five working groups of the multilateral negotiations for West Asia peace.

 An authoritative Indian source in Tel Aviv feels the peace process has moved rapidly since the tragedy. "In an ironical sense, Rabin's death has actually given the whole process a kick-start, particularly with regard to Syria. The Israeli position has always been security first and foremost. But Peres is willing to take all issues together. He must take a great deal of credit for getting the whole thing moving again. One reason is that the domestic opposition has been silenced, at least temporarily since the Likud is still reeling under criticism."

A recent poll has shown that Israel is now the third-most optimistic country in the world. Adds the source: "Peace has a very strong backing. The economy is doing well. And the country has reached a stage where the people are sick and tired of wars and violence. Even the Likud wants peace. The only difference is in the terms. There is an urgent feeling in the nation that peace has to be made as soon as possible since the elections are only 10 months away."

Meanwhile, the nation tries to come to terms with the most traumatic event in its 47-year-old struggle for survival.

 Plunged into a period of self-doubt and recrimination, Israel may never be the same again. Israeli Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Amnon Shahak sums it up best: "How did it happen? How did it happen to us, among us? The soul-searching did not stop with the end of the 30 days of mourning. Perhaps it is only just beginning."

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