Peres takes charge in Israel Challenge to new leader: Complete the peace process for which Rabin was slain.

November 26, 1995

SHIMON PERES HAS TAKEN over as Israel's prime minister with confidence and clear purpose. He promoted three younger potential successors to prominent cabinet posts where they can jockey. He added an orthodox rabbi from the West Bank as outreach to observant Jews who had felt unrepresented by the Labor Party. And in his acceptance speech to the Knesset he appealed to President Hafez el Assad of Syria to complete the circle of peace between Israel and its neighbors that is the 73-year-old prime minister's life's work.

Mr. Peres' ascent was greeted respectfully by a chastened people and political establishment. They are still in shock from the assassination of his predecessor, Yitzhak Rabin, by a young zealot who had equated the peace process with the murder of Jews. For once, a prime minister was not even heckled in the Knesset.

Mr. Peres is taking the defense portfolio himself, suggesting that implementation of the agreement with the PLO is more essential than further negotiating. He gave a former army chief of staff, Ehud Barak, his own previous role as foreign minister for the anticipated negotiations with Syria. That is fitting, as the Golan Heights issue is so clearly about security.

The gap in the new cabinet is the slain Mr. Rabin. His particular contribution to peace -- as a lifelong hawk in defense of Israel's security -- was assurance to the majority of Israelis that the agreement with the PLO contained sufficient safeguards. Mr. Peres, an uncritical enthusiast for his own proposals, could never have played that role. Now presumably, it is for Mr. Barak to fill.

In sober reflection of the meaning of the Rabin assassination, and the rhetoric of hatred that had crept into Israel's politics, Israel's police are scrutinizing the violent right as they should have done earlier. While there may have been a tiny conspiracy to murder Israel's leaders, there are signs of a larger one to destroy Palestinian life and property. Arrests are still being made. Every since Baruch Goldstein's massacre of Muslims at a shrine in Hebron in February of last year, Israel has understood that peace requires it as well as the PLO to suppress terrorism by its own citizens.

The Peres government is off to as good a start as could be expected. The leader of the Likud Party opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu, has behaved impeccably. But boisterous Israeli politics will resume. Likud will bird-dog the peace process at every step, and the election that must be held by next November will serve as referendum. All of Mr. Peres' considerable political skills are needed to make permanent the peace that he and Mr.

Rabin began.

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