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By Jimmy Carter

This article appeared in the Dec. 12, 1995, edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The death of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a double tragedy for me. I lost a treasured friend, and the world lost an honest and committed man of peace. But I have come to believe that this horrible event may strengthen the drive for peace in the Middle East.

The unprecedented soul-searching exhibited by Israelis may well reduce the level of vituperation against peacemakers. And the outpouring of support from other countries may reassure Israelis who have opposed the agreements.

The late soldier-statesman Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman, now president of Israel, told me years ago that the Israelis are accustomed to war but reluctant to face the unpredictabilities of peace. They are afraid to put their security in the hands of others.

What will happen next?
By narrow margins, the sharply divided Knesset has ratified the peace accords. Even earlier than scheduled, Israeli troops and government officials have been withdrawing from carefully prescribed areas within which the Palestinian people are scheduled to choose their own leaders on Jan. 20. If this procedure is successful, then a peace agreement between Israel and Syria may be the next step.

Direct talks similar to those sponsored in 1993 by Norwegian mediators between Israelis and Palestinians or 15 years earlier between Menachim Begin and Anwar Sadat may not be advisable. Indirect discussions, through intermediaries, are more likely to achieve success.

For leaders in Jerusalem, making peace with Syria will be an important and difficult political decision, with re-aroused concern about an uncertain future and reliance on a stronger and even more unpredictable neighbor. Rabin shared many of these concerns.

One of my earliest acts as president was to invite key Middle East leaders to Washington to discuss prospects for a strong effort toward lasting peace.

In March 1977, I met with Rabin, then prime minister of Israel. I found him to have little interest in any mediation effort on my part to end the constant cycles of violence. His attitude at that point toward Israel's Arab neighbors was still that of a military commander who had fought them on the battlefield and saw them only as enemies.

As I met over two months with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, King Hussein of Jordan, al Assad and Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia, only Sadat responded with any enthusiasm toward a peace initiative.

By then Rabin had resigned and Menachim Begin, the Likud leader, had become prime minister. I thought our peace effort was over. But this seemingly incompatible pair, Begin and Sadat, achieved the breakthrough at Camp David that in April 1979 led to a permanent peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

That Rabin in later years was able to pursue the peace path is a testament to his deep conviction that it was the only road for Israel. He was scrupulously honest, very serious, careful and deliberate in his decisions, with the security of Israel always his pre-eminent concern. These characteristics made it possible for him to forge peace agreements with the Palestinians and Jordanians and have them accepted by a doubtful Israeli public.

I believe that between now and the scheduled Israeli elections is an advantageous time for Israel and Syria to make a strong move toward peace.

As was the case with Begin and Sadat, Peres and al Assad will need the assurance of strong American support, including a willingness both to mediate and to help ensure that any agreement will be honored.

Jimmy Carter was president from 1977 to '81. He now heads The Carter Center, a nonprofit organization in Atlanta. He and other representatives of the Carter Center will help monitor the Jan. 20 elections in Israel.

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