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Hatred of Meir Kahane lives on

In a cramped office around the corner from army headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, a slightly built bearded man is leaning across my desk, jabbing his finger in the air and shouting in my face.

His eyes are bulging, his nose is about six inches from mine and spittle is flying in all directions as he shouts, loudly enough to be heard out on the street.

The man is Meir Kahane, head of the Jewish Defense League, and he's telling me exactly what he plans to do with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians when he and his followers take over Israel. And even though the conversation took place 19 years ago, I remember his words as if I've just heard them:

"Throw them all out. Every one of them. Arabs don't belong on the land God gave to the Jews. They have no right to be here."

And what, I ask, will he and his followers do if the Palestinian Arabs refuse to leave, if they decide they have as much right to this land as anyone else?

Kahane, wearing a wrinkled suit and a gray-white shirt open at the neck, suddenly grows quiet and leans even closer, his bulging eyes more fierce than before.

"Kill them," he hisses. "If they won't go, we'll kill them."

We talked over two hours that afternoon in Tel Aviv and met three or four more times over the following year. From those talks, I came to know that Kahane and his followers were capable of just about anything. I knew that _ like some of the most radical Palestinian groups it so closely resembled _ Kahane's movement would do whatever it took to wreck any prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

For Kahane and his acolytes, there was no room for compromise. The only way peace could come to Israel would be without Palestinians. There would be no partition, no sharing, of their God-given land.

If you've read this far, you probably know already that Kahane is dead now, gunned down in New York a few years back by one of those Arabs he so furiously despised. And you probably know too that the reason I'm recalling my long ago conversations with him is that one of Kahane's followers _ a man named Baruch Goldstein _ has just done more to derail the Middle East peace process than any dozen Palestinian terror attacks.

Goldstein seems a most unlikely candidate to live out Kahane's darker vision by killing scores of Muslims as they knelt in prayer to mark the holy month of Ramadan. The New York-born 38-year-old was, after all, a physician and a father of four. You would think that he, more than most, would put great value on human life and do everything in his power to preserve it.

That somebody like Goldstein would arm himself with a fully automatic assault rifle and kill as indiscriminately as he did last Friday has to tell you something about the passions at work in the Middle East these days.

Peace, after so many years and after so much bloodshed, now seemed possible _ and before Friday was very close at hand. Men like Goldstein, or any number of counterparts among the Palestinians, knew their time to act was limited, that if some contemptible compromise was to be averted they would have to begin killing.

So, to no one's surprise and everyone's consternation, Goldstein took his gun and killed in the only place where Jews and Muslims pray together to their common prophets, the Tomb of the Patriarchs at Hebron, south of Jerusalem.

The killing could have been carried out just as easily by one of the fanatics of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, the extremist Muslim groups that also want to destroy the peace process. The fact that it was done by a fundamentalist Jew makes small difference in the final analysis.

The peace process is grievously, possibly fatally, wounded. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization will have to be exceptionally far-sighted and wise to save it.

Both men are survivors, battle-scarred winners in the most brutal political wars imaginable. If any two men are equipped by experience and temperament to get themselves out of the trap Baruch Goldstein set for them, they are Rabin and Arafat.

Evidence of that began emerging Monday when Rabin's government began making the kind of compromises that just might keep Arafat at the peace table.

According to diplomats involved in the process, Rabin was offering to allow international observers in the occupied territories to monitor the safety of the Palestinians. In addition, he would allow the Palestinians to have their own 10,000-member police force in the territories instead of an 8,000-member force as previously discussed.

The concessions, part of an interim peace plan giving Palestinians control over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho, were largely symbolic. U.N. peace monitors are already present in most parts of the Israeli-occupied territories and a few thousand Palestinian police officers one way or the other isn't going to make much difference.

The concessions can, however, be immensely useful in helping Arafat persuade his many hard-line detractors that _ even after last Friday _ talking with the Israelis is still worthwhile.

Arafat needs this help badly. His fellow Palestinians, already fed up with his leadership and the lack of tangible progress in the peace talks, are protesting against him almost daily.

Unless Arafat and his ancient enemy, Rabin, can cut a deal quickly the prospects for peace nurtured so patiently and carefully over the past few years will be lost.

Meir Kahane, dead though he may be, will have defeated both of them.

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