The shocking assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4 is undoubtedly a huge loss to Israel, the Jewish community and the peace process in general. Rabin was not only an initiator and an architect of the ongoing peace process with Palestinians and other Arab countries, but also instrumental in overcoming many of the current domestic obstacles facing both Israelis and Palestinians as they march in the direction of peace. I was hardly surprised when the New York Times and the Boston Globe quickly alerted their readers in front-page articles to the parallels between the assassination of Rabin last Saturday and the slaying of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1961. The similarities are obviously striking: both Sedet and Rabin courageously dared to initiate peace when no one else would, both were awarded the Nobel prize for their commitment to a peaceful agreement and both have been killed by their own countrymen, namely extremists who resented the fact that Israelis and Arabs were finally attempting to abandon their longtime policy of hatred and war. The Boston Globe even published a picture of Sadat's daughter, Carnelia, who currently lives in the United States, publicly mourning over Rabin's tragie death and comparing his fate to her father's fate 14 years ages.
Despite the apparent parallels, however, one should realize that the political circumstances surrounding Rabin's death are extremely different from the early 1980's when Sadat was assassinated: Sadat's historical visit to Jerusalem followed by the Camp David Accords in 1979 visibly shocked the Arab peoples who still desperately wanted to believe in Nasserist slogans calling for Pan-Arabian and the destruction of the Jewish state. Admittedly, Sadat's peace initiative had tremendous historical as well as symbolic value, but it was never intended to transcend the realm of symbolism. Sadat was celebrated as a hero in the West but remained largely unpopular at home and was labeled a traitor all over the Arab world. The years of "cold peace" following his death signaled Egypt's reluctance to translate the symbolic peace into "real" peace that could benefit both countries, economically or otherwise. President Mubarak, preoccupied with restoring Egypt's diplomatic ties with the Arab nations and reasserting its role as the leader of the Arab world, largely avoided any political move that could potentially promote the peace treaty his predecessor had signed. Hence, the peace treaty remained a worthless piece of paper that never changed the policies of the Egyptian government or altered its attitude towards Israel and the Israelia.
Rabin's tragic death, however, should be viewed from a different perspective: it should be regarded as a signal that both Arabs and Israelis are taking the peace process seriously for the first time since the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict. As paradoxical as this sounds, it is true: the inter-Arab rivalry, which erupted most recently in the Middle East Economic Summit in Amman last week when Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Mousse warned Arab countries against "scurrying after" normalization with Israel only to be interrupted by King Hussein, who fired back that the "scurrying" is only to catch up with Egypt who "preceded us in this by 17 years," reflects the growing tension between Arab states as the peace process is overcoming the "rhetoric phase" and is about to enter the "real phase" of economic and political cooperation. As the dynamics of Middle Eastern politics are changing, no Arab country--including Syris--wants to be left in the cold.
The fact that an Israeli right-wing extremist shot Rabin further underlines the fact that not only Arabs but also Israelis realize that the time for action has come and therefore, in extreme cases, resort to violence to cover their panic and fear of a peace they never believed could actually exist. For the first time. Arabs and Jews alike are "internalizing" the peace process by evaluating it not in terms of symbolic significance but in terms of economic, social, and political benefits. The assassination of Sadat halted the peace process for over a decade: the assassination of Rabin just might have the reverse effect. --Hashem E. Montasser '96