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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Feb. 13, 1996 V4, #27
All the News the Big Guys Missed

The Israeli and Palestinian Elections

Israel: By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel's ruling Labor party and the main opposition party, the Likud, have agreed to hold early national elections May 28, five months ahead of schedule. Agreement on the date was reached Monday night following a meeting between the two party leaders.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned Prime Minister Shimon Peres, about an hour after their meeting ended, to inform him that the Likud agreed to elections May 28. Labor had wanted the election a week earlier, while Likud had preferred a week later.

With this agreement, Likud will apparently support two bills the prime minister formally submitted earlier Monday, asking parliament to dissolve itself and calling early elections. The parliament is to take up the proposals today.

In past Israeli elections, in spite of various security threats and peace opportunities through the years, the economy has generally been the main issue. But this time, the main issue is expected to be the peace process. The Likud accuses Labor of giving away too much and risking Israeli security, while Labor says the Likud's idea of freezing the withdrawal from Palestinian areas and refusing to return the Golan Heights to Syria will only lead to more terrorism and more wars.

Speaking to foreign reporters in Jerusalem, a senior Labor leader, Interior Minister Haim Ramon, said the party will tell voters Likud's approach is not realistic, and that Israelis must accept parts of the peace process they do not like -- such as surrendering territory to the Palestinians -- as well as parts they do like -- such as peace with Jordan.

"Fortunately or unfortunately, without kissing arafat, you didn't shake hands with Hussein. And if you will stop negotiating with arafat, you will stop shaking hands with Hussein. It's part of the peace process. What the Likud is trying to say is 'This is a good kind of peace, and this is a bad kind of peace.' These are two parts of the same peace."

Likud is expected to argue that such an approach would leave Israel defenseless if its neighbors turn against it again in the future.
Public opinion polls indicate Israelis are deeply and fairly evenly divided over how to proceed in the peace process, but prefer Peres to Netanyahu for prime minister by as much as 22 percent. In this election, for the first time, Israelis will cast two ballots -- one for prime minister and one for a party list. This opens the possibility that either man could be elected prime minister but face a parliament in which a majority opposes him on key issues, such as how to pursue the peace process.

Peres says he decided to call the elections to gain a new mandate from the voters and to shorten the election campaign. But analysts point out that he also might have been motivated by seeing his popularity begin to decline from unprecedented peaks immediately after the assassination.


Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat was sworn in as President of the Palestinian Autonomy Authority in Gaza Monday, two days after the official results of the Jan. 20 elections were announced.

At the building which will be home to the newly elected Palestinian Council, Arafat placed his right hand on the Muslim holy book, the Koran, and read his oath of office.

Arafat swore to be faithful to the Palestinian people and their homeland, to uphold the law and to pursue the interests of the Palestinian people, including what he called the integrity of their land and the pursuit of their national aspirations. Later, speaking to Palestinian radio, Arafat said he has taken on a heavy burden which he hopes God will help him to bear.

The ceremony before the chief Palestinian judge and the acting chairman of the Palestine National Council, as well as about 100 guests, came less than 48 hours after the official results of last month's election were announced. The results showed Arafat with 87 per cent of the vote in the presidential race, and gave his Fatah party 50 of the 88 council seats. The new council is to convene in about nine days.

Arafat now must form an executive authority, or cabinet, with 80 per cent of its members coming from the new council. The executive authority and the council will have full control of Gaza and of Palestinian cities on the West Bank, and control of civil affairs in all occupied Palestinian areas. They will also represent the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel on the next and final stage of the peace process starting in May.

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