Peres off to a good start

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To many Israelis, Shimon Peres has been the ultimate dove willing and ready to give up territory for an alleged promise of peace.

This week in the wake of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, a sympathy and unity vote propelled him into the prime minister's seat.

Peres knows he can't coast on Rabin's memory for long. The nearly universal support will probably subside as soon as Peres puts his individual stamp on the peace process.

But Peres made key appointments to his Cabinet this week that should put him on firmer ground with Israelis and show an emerging maturity.

Haim Ramon, who broke away from the Labor Party last year and won an upset victory to head the Histadrut labor federation, is the new interior minister. Ramon's popularity can do nothing but help Peres.

Ehud Barak, former army chief of staff, is the new foreign minister. Nearly as respected as Rabin for his military leadership, Barak will be significant balance to Peres' dovish tendency.

Another smart appointment is Orthodox Rabbi Yehuda Amital, the head of a yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut. As new minister without portfolio, his duties include overseeing the government's all-important dialogue with settlers in the territories.

Though Amital's appointment doesn't change Peres' support for territorial concessions in exchange for peace, it is a substantial attempt to reach out to his opponents.

The Likud Party also deserves credit for choosing not to dispute the formation of the new government. Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu explained that elections, not bullets, are the only acceptable way to change the leadership in a democracy.

At the same time that Peres is reaching out to varied segments of Israelis, he is rightfully clamping down on Jewish extremists from entering Israel if they might pose a threat to public safety.

While this particular proposal may go too far, another security measure deserves consideration.

In the United States where freedom of speech is protected under the Constitution, it is still a felony to threaten the life of the president. In Israel, no similar law exists for the prime minister. It's time that one did; Peres should lead the way in the effort.

Peres has long been hobbled by the lack of a brilliant military career like Rabin's. Now, many political analysts are arguing that Peres must follow Rabin's security-oriented policies to persuade Israelis that his peace plan is the right one.

His latest moves are showing a desperately needed wisdom. If he continues to show such political maturity, perhaps Peres' government can fulfill Rabin's legacy