Editor's Notes: The anniversary

One senses that Rabin would have concluded his "partner" was not shifting from terrorist to statesman.

And what if Rabin had lived? If the assassin had been intercepted, or his bullets missed their mark? Some of those closest to the murdered prime minister insist to this day that, for all Arafat's subsequent fostering of terrorism and rejection of peace, with Rabin it would have worked. When Rabin spoke to him, Arafat was a different man, they say. Barak's big mistake was that he tried to dictate terms to the Palestinian leader. Rabin, by contrast, did not talk down to him. Behind the scenes, one very senior ex-Rabin aide once assured me, furthermore, Arafat was actually helping Israel far more than is appreciated. True, said this aide, his Palestinian Authority did not overtly confront known terrorists in the way that Israel would have wanted. But Arafat, this senior aide asserted, often provided chapter and verse on the movements and location of such terrorists, enabling Israel to intercept them. When I recently put this claim of Arafat's unpublicized role in the fight against terror to a very senior ex-intelligence officer, a man who was particularly well-placed to judge its veracity, however, he flatly rejected it. In fact, he derided it. Arafat "didn't lift a finger" to help Israel, he said. Far from giving Israel information to enable arrests, indeed, Arafat used information obtained from Israel to help terrorists evade capture and also "burned" Israel's Palestinian intelligence informants. We can only speculate as to whether Rabin would have won the 1996 elections, or whether the shift of support to the Likud in the months before his murder would have brought victory for Binyamin Netanyahu, as the end of violence anticipated by the Israeli architects of the Oslo process failed to materialize. But it is hard to resist the sense that, one way or another, sooner or later, Rabin would have concluded that his "partner" was not genuinely making the shift from terrorist to statesman, and that his own instinctive hesitation when it came time to shake hands with Arafat at that September 13 ceremony on the White House lawn was well-grounded. Five years after the killing of Rabin, Ehud Barak arrived at Camp David convinced that he would be able to vindicate his self-professed mentor and seal a permanent accord. Whatever he may subsequently have said about setting out to "test" Arafat or "remove the mask" from the face of the Palestinian leader, Barak went to those Camp David talks convinced that he would be able to reach a deal because, in his view, he was offering viable terms. He was mistaken. And five years after that, the president who hosted the ill-fated negotiations, Bill Clinton, was this week still expressing mystification that Arafat had rejected those terms. While the Palestinian narrative of Israeli responsibility for Camp David's failure continues to hold sway in much of the global mind-set, Clinton, better placed than anybody to assign blame, left no doubt of Arafat's culpability. In an address to the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby's "National Summit" in Los Angeles, Clinton mused: "I've never gotten a satisfactory explanation as to why Arafat walked away from the peace process he had begged me to stay and complete." Clinton is due in Israel in the next few days, one of the most prominent of the dignitaries flying in to mark the bitter 10th anniversary of the assassination. He was full of admiration for Rabin in his AIPAC speech, describing him as a symbol of the direction the world needs to take - a man who spent his life fighting to secure his country and one who also sought to explore a late-life opportunity to lay the guns aside. "There hasn't been a day in the last 10 years when I haven't missed him," Clinton added. Lauding Rabin as a general who recognized the horrors of war and strove to maximize every chance to prevent their recurrence is a fine memorial indeed. Marking Rabin's murder as the moment that hopes for peace died is a skewing of history. Failing to prevent terror in the Rabin era and beyond, fostering it in the years before his death, Yasser Arafat killed the peace process. Yigal Amir despicably gunned down one of Israel's finest sons, demeaned us, shook our democracy, murdered our innocence. Ten years on, perhaps we can derive some comfort from the manner in which this summer's national trauma, the pullout from Gaza, passed without excessive internal violence, and with no wide recurrence of the kind of vicious and personal campaign of incitement and delegitimization that ultimately saw Rabin assassinated. The more extreme critics of the settler leadership would lambaste it for mounting an overly passive struggle against the withdrawal. But that struggle bore the hallmarks of the Rabin lesson learned, of a determination to maintain the unity of the Jewish nation. *** Clinton's AIPAC appearance was a fascinating, understated event. Welcomed onstage with an ecstatic ovation and a stirring musical soundtrack, the former president was nonetheless a study in soft-spoken, occasionally self-deprecating, elder-statesmanship. He joked early on that "as an ex-president I can say what I think. That's the good news. The bad news is that nobody cares anymore," and it was plain that the humor was touched with more than a tinge of regret. He spoke slowly, pausing often, frequently touching a finger to his cheek in apparent thought as he verbally toured the Middle East's hot-spots, offering assessments as though he was freshly formulating them. There were gentle barbs at the Bush administration - particularly for committing to war in Iraq: "We went into Iraq too early and should have given the UN inspectors more time," he said. But Clinton was not seeking to score political points. Indeed it was striking how much of what he said accorded with Bush policy. Now that the US was so deeply engaged in Iraq, he said for instance, "We must stay and try to make the situation work." If the US were to up and leave, Sunni Iraq could become a terror nest that would destabilize the entire region. Rather, the administration had to see through the electoral process there, do its best to foster a representative government that could maintain stability, and only then consider drawing down its troops. He seemed to mourn the fact of premature involvement in Iraq because it had limited America's ability to deal more directly with Iran, a country hell-bent on becoming a nuclear power and with "a serious capacity for terror" that Iraq never had. President Ahmadinejad's call to wipe Israel off the map was "outrageous" and "idiotic,' he said, and he didn't have a "silver bullet." Indeed, he added dryly, I hope a silver bullet is not what is required, or a whole bunch of them. We are otherwise occupied…" But having understandably left the Europeans to forge the diplomatic struggle against a nuclear Iran, Clinton added, America now needed to get more "directly" involved. On Syria, he recalled that Bashar Assad, when taking office, had struck him as "a modern person," a man inclined to "reach out for peace and opportunity." But Assad, concerned that the terrorists his country hosted and the reactionary forces in his army might undo him, had "balanced his factors wrongly." With every indication of Syrian culpability in the murder of Rafik Hariri, the US should support the UN's "resolute" investigation of that killing and take the appropriate action at its conclusion. "You cannot have a renegade country getting away with that kind of stuff," he said. As for Israel and the Palestinians, Clinton said he worried about us all every day, and that his basic attitude had remained unchanged "since the first day I went to work on this." And that attitude amounted to "preparing for the worst" in ensuring the survival and security for Israel, and "working for the best" to create a moderate, stable Middle East. Specifically, if Israel's security needs and the terror threat meant it had to close off its labor market to Gaza's Palestinians, then "the rest of us" needed to create employment and economic opportunity in Gaza to give the Palestinians there grounds for optimism. And if the level of violence was deterring such investment, then some kind of "insurance" framework should be made available to safeguard those funds - a project he said he was now working on. He praised Ariel Sharon for taking a "correct step" in leaving Gaza. The final outcome of the move wasn't clear yet, he said, and it was up to the international community, at least in part, to help make it a success, by bolstering Israel's security and giving Gazans room for hope. "I'm not in power anymore," Clinton said movingly toward the end, "but I don't love Israel any less." *** The AIPAC event was also notable for a compelling appearance by Avi Dichter, until recently the head of the Shin Bet, now doing research at a Washington think tank, and much touted as a potential leading politician-in-the-making. In a panel discussion at which I was seated alongside him, Dichter smoothly and resolutely deflected questions about his likely future. He also impressed with a mix of dry humor and concise insight. Unlike such recent ex-security chiefs as former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak who flew high in the weeks ahead of a political entry and then crashed spectacularly as soon as they opened their mouths, Dichter said nothing that would have alienated potential supporters anywhere from center Right to center Left on the political spectrum. AIPAC took all 1,000-plus summit participants on a tour of the "West Wing" set at nearby Warner Bros. studios - fake Rose Garden, Roosevelt Room, et al. Along with the rest of us, Dichter happily took a seat and was photographed at the presidential desk in the faux Oval Office. That's one political chair he'll never truly occupy. But are there others he will seek to fill, back home?