Statement of Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the U.N., at the Georgetown University Forum: "After the Assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin: Prospects for the Middle East Peace Process", 9 November 1995:

The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin generated shock waves affecting all parties in the Middle East peace process, threatening to impact on the region as a whole. Mr. Rabin was thought of as a man uniquely posed to lead the Israeli side through the process of peace given his qualifications, background and the confidence he enjoyed among the Israelis. The sudden disappearance of a man with such a central role will definitely have a strong impact on the overall situation. Also, the dramatic and violent circumstances of his death may increase the weight of such an impact. The beginning of this impact has already been witnessed in Israel and throughout the region. The foremost question now is how this event will affect the peace process in the future.

Most experts seem to believe that in the short term the Middle East peace process will gain momentum. The same majority of experts predict a less positive situation in the long term, particularly with regard to the negotiations on final status issues with the Palestinian side and the negotiations with the Syrian government. While such predictions seem plausible, a safer approach would be to explore the various possibilities in both directions, positive and negative, and to closely observe developments thereafter in an effort to arrive at the correct conclusions about the future of the Middle East peace process.

Let us begin with examination of the short-term possibilities on the positive side.

1. Acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres harnesses all his skills and potential, quickly dispelling his image as the second man behind the role of the strong leader. Peres would move quickly to exercise control over the Labor party, establish a healthy relationship with the leaders of the new generation and broaden the government coalition. He would also take the necessary steps to exercise control, directly or indirectly, over generals in the army and the security apparatus. He would move steadily, and on time, with the implementation of the agreements reached with the Palestinian side, thus creating new political facts which may be decisive in terms of the forthcoming Israeli elections.

2. The debate in Israel over the role which the opposition might have played in creating the atmosphere leading to the dramatic and unfortunate event intensifies and may lead to delegitimization of the concept of opposing the current peace process as a matter of principle. Such delegitimization, of course, would not preclude democratic debate and disagreement with regard to specific issues and details of the peace process. The same atmosphere would also serve to facilitate government actions against the core of extremist organizations, including religious fundamentalists. Such measures could be taken with the blessing of the broad spectrum of Israeli society.

3. Positive developments on the Palestinian side in the period to come include the diminishment of violent acts and a possible agreement with the Islamic movement in a way which produce an Islamic party to participate in the general election. The Palestinian elections would take place in this altered environment, democratic values would be reaffirmed and become more prominent, creating a positive impact on the Israeli side and possibly also on the American side. All these developments would lead to greater stability and an increase in international assistance to the Palestinian people, improved Israeli cooperation in the building of the Palestinian economy and a better situation overall.

Let us now examine the short-term possibilities on the negative side.

1. Challenges rise to Peres' leadership in the Labor party from young and ambitious figures and difficulties will occur in broadening the coalition of the government. Some generals of the army and security apparatus, who may not be completely satisfied with the agreements reached with the Palestinian side, could cause some difficulties with the aim of derailing implementation. All of this would complicate the functioning of the government and decrease the chances for Peres or any other Labor candidate to win the elections.

2. Problems and delays in the implementation of the agreements reached lead to increased tension in Palestinian-Israeli relations, leading to an increase in violence and the probability of bloody events occurring. These circumstances would poison the atmosphere on the Israeli side and would produce negative responses, including responses by the United States and a decrease in assistance, creating a very grave situation.

3. The Israeli debate does not go deep enough to examine the substantial and serious issues at hand. In such a situation, the right wing, after a period of restraint, would bounce back to once again assert opposition to the peace process as a whole and as a matter of principle and would stress the validity of the struggle against the process. This, in turn, would generate a negative response within the Israeli society to any actions taken by the government towards extremist groups.

It seems to me that it is difficult to exclude any of the above-mentioned possibilities on both sides, at least from a theoretical point of view. Personally, I am inclined to expect the short-term possibilities to be positive. The actual outcome, however, will largely depend on the efforts and the seriousness of all the parties concerned, which includes almost everyone - on the Israeli side: Peres, the Labor party leadership, partners in the coalition (including Meretz and Shaas), the army generals, and even the President; on the Palestinian side: Yasser Arafat, the emerging Palestinian leaders, and Hamas; and on the Arab side: Hussein, Mubarak and, without doubt, Assad. Furthermore, a decisive role rests with the United States. In the past, Israeli governments sought to avoid complete U.S. engagement or an active U.S. role beyond certain limits. At this stage, however, it seems to me that, in the interest of all of us, this should no longer be the case. We need to witness full U.S. engagement, which clearly requires, among other things, a change in the attitude of the Congress.

Needless to say, there are no clear-cut lines between the various possibilities. We may see variations and possibly a mixture of events on both the positive and negative sides. The actual outcome in the short-term will, of course, definitely be decisive for long-term developments. Further than that, when it comes to the Middle East, only God knows.