The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November is a tragic reminder of the role that religiously based fanaticism has played in shaping Israeli policy toward the peace process.
For two years now, Israel's fundamentalists and their threats of violence have seriously constrained the ability of the Israeli government to meet several Palestinian concerns in the process. Efforts to shut down all Palestinian activity in East Jerusalem, continued settlement building on Palestinian-owned land, maintaining provocative settler communities in Gaza and Hebron, and regular episodes of settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank have all combined to distort the process, deny Palestinian aspirations, and delay implementation of the peace accords.
Now Rabin, who was so often frustrated by those groups and who frequently denounced them, has lost his life to one of their disciples, and many question whether or not the process will survive his passing.
Even before the Rabin assassination, there were many concerns about the status quo of the peace process. Despite these concerns, some observers feel the murder of Rabin "cannot and will not stop the process" because there are forces on both sides driving it forward. The peace process, in this view, has become both institutionalized and irreversible.
One thing is certain. Israeli society and the American Jewish community have been traumatized by the assassination. U.S. officials have been shocked, as well, by their recognition of the real threat posed by Jewish fundamentalism and violence.
Recent polls show that Israelis have responded to the murder of Rabin by becoming even more strongly committed to carrying out Israel's withdrawal from the territories, cracking down on violent right-wing factions, and even supporting Prime Minister Shimon Peres over Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.