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Archive for Tuesday, November 14, 1995

ISRAELI OFFICIAL HOPES TO CONTINUE PEACE WORK

November 14, 1995

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Yitzhak Rabin's murder needn't shatter hopes of achieving peace in the Middle East, an Israeli official says.

Israel must press ahead with the Middle East peace process despite Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's slaying, an Israeli official said Monday.

"The basic underlying notion of the Israeli government to pursue the peace process remains intact," said Chaim Shacham. "Even with Yitzhak Rabin's passing, the architecture of the peace process remains."

Shacham, Israeli press consul in Chicago, spoke at Kansas University on what the future holds for settling differences among Israelis and Arabs.

He recently served as director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry's computer-based Israel Information Service and was part of Israel's delegation to the Middle East peace talks in Madrid, Spain and Washington, D.C.

Shacham said he was grateful Rabin lived long enough to hammer out a deal that would lead to West Bank autonomy for Palestinians.

"Signing that agreement would be difficult without Rabin," he said.

Israeli extremist Yigal Amir confessed to shooting Rabin at a Tel Aviv peace rally Nov. 4. Amir was opposed to giving up the West Bank.

Shacham said Israel was motivated to continue the peace process to save lives. In addition, Israel is at a strategic advantage. Threats from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt have diminished, he said.

"The Israeli government feels now is the time to cash our chips," he said.

He said the goal was to negotiate accords with longtime adversaries in a way that isolates Iran. Within five years, he said, Iran will be capable of striking any Middle East target with nuclear weapons.

"I'm not sure Iran, when it has a weapon, will employ logic," Shacham said.

Perhaps a united front of Arab states and Israel can deter Iranians, he said.

Two events gave life to serious Middle East peace negotiations. First, the breakup of the Soviet Union ended Syria's primary source of military and financial. Negotiation with Israel was a natural political move given the new world order.

Syria's action prompted other Arab states -- Jordan, Lebanon -- to engage in peace talks with Israel, Shacham said.

In addition, financial and political pressure on the Palestine Liberation Organization after the Gulf War led PLO leader Yasser Arafat to renounce use of terrorism against Israel. In exchange, Israel recognized the PLO. Serious peace negotiations commenced, he said.

Shacham said the most difficult issue in the future for Palestinian and Israeli negotiators would be control of Jerusalem. Both sides want the city for a capital.

"Jerusalem is probably one of the most intractable problems," he said.

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