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October 18, 2002

Rabin's stock takes deserved dive

Rabin: then and now:

KIRIYAT ARBA, WEST BANK, ISRAEL - At Elitzur's cafe, just off Rabbi Kahane Park, some very hard men ushered in Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Day by discussing their feelings. The topic was the assassination of Rabin nearly seven years ago.
"I've felt guilty for the past six years," said Elitzur. "But not after what Oslo has done to us."

Elitzur, who wears a large skull cap and sports an untamed beard, is the father of 11. In 1995, he told a reporter that the way to stop the accords - a Palestinian state in return for peace - was to put a bullet into the prime minister. A few days later, Yigal Amir did just that. Overnight, Elitzur became a symbol of extremist violence.

"I had mixed feelings after the murder," he told me. "I felt my words contributed to bloodshed." He shook his head. "But since the intifadeh, I'm mad at Rabin all over again."

"You are not planning to commemorate memorial day," I guessed.

"I'll recite psalms," Elitzur said. Then he added, "The truth is, I recite psalms every day."

A loud boom shook the cafe. Dubak, a local activist, cocked an ear. "Nothing," he pronounced. Two years of the post-Oslo intifadeh have given him perfect pitch for lethal explosions. Dubak wears a smaller skull cap and a shorter beard than Elitzur - signs, in settler's circles, of relative moderation. But he, too, intended to skip Rabin Memorial Day.

"In Oslo, he gave Arafat 70,000 Kalishnikovs," Dubak said.

"If Rabin had lived, he'd never have let this happen," said a visitor from Jerusalem. "He was an honest man. He would have admitted his mistake." The hard men nodded. Later that day, Knesset member Zvi Hendel echoed this thought when he introduced an (unsuccessful) bill to annul the accords. If Rabin were still alive, Hendel argued, he'd be the first to vote for it.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres - Rabin's partner in Oslo - took heated exception. "I'm proud of [the Oslo Accords]," he told the Knesset. "And Rabin would have stood here the same way I do."

Maybe. But Rabin had a premonition that Oslo might turn into a fiasco. "I'm afraid I made a terrible mistake," he confided to an American acquaintance shortly before his assassination.

Death spared Rabin confirmation of his hunch. The deal is on a political respirator and slipping fast. If and when it goes, most Israelis won't mourn it, any more than the hard men at Elitzur's cafe mourn the death of Yitzhak Rabin.