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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Feb. 15, 1996 V4, #29
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Israelis to Vote Separately for Prime Minister

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel is preparing for early elections for prime minister and parliament, with the future of the Middle East peace process hanging in the balance. For the first time, Israelis will cast two ballots this year.

In the past Israelis voted for a political party only, with the 120 parliament seats distributed according to the percentage of the vote each party received. The leader of the party with the most seats had the first chance to form a government and be prime minister.

This time the parliament seats will be distributed in the same way, but there will be a separate ballot for prime minister. If no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the vote, the top two will compete again in a run-off. This raises the possibility for the first time in Israel that the prime minister could face a parliament in which a majority of the members oppose him on key issues.

But senior Labor Party member and Interior Minister Haim Ramon believes the opposite will happen. "It will be much easier to form a coalition under the new system than in the previous one, because when everybody is aware of the fact that somebody is the prime minister, that he was elected, they will cooperate with him and their power to decide who will be prime minister does not exist any more, and that was one of the main obstacles in the Israeli previous system."

The prime minister is expected to be either the current incumbent, Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, or the leader of the largest opposition party, the Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu, a former deputy foreign minister. Peres leads Netanyahu by as much as 22 points in current public opinion polls.

But whichever man wins he will face several new parties in the parliament. Former foreign minister David Levy has broken away from Likud to form his own party, with a large base of Israelis of North African decent.

Labor has also suffered a split by several of its leading members, who have formed a new party called "The Third Way." They promise to pursue peace with a stronger security element, taking a line between Labor and Likud. In addition, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky has formed a party based on new immigrants, many of them from the former USSR. And he is expected to also gain support from Ethiopian immigrants, as well as other Israelis.

Meanwhile, Likud has formed an alliance with the right wing Tsomet party, although there is considerable debate about how many centrist voters this will cost Likud in exchange for picking up some of the most conservative Israeli votes.

And as always in Israeli politics, the several parties representing religious Jews will play a key role. In the past, they have often held the balance of power between conservatives and liberals. This time, analysts say, with the direct election of prime minister and the creation of the parties, they might have less power.

The key issue in this Israeli election campaign is expected to be the peace process -- with Labor arguing for full steam ahead, Likud wanting to put on the brakes, and the other parties mostly somewhere in between. The outcome will determine how Israel pursues its on-again off-again talks with Syria and the outcome of talks with the Palestinians on the remaining, difficult issues -- including the possible creation of a Palestinian state. That, in turn, will affect the political and economic situation in the entire region.

State Dept. Denounces Farrakhan as 'Shameful'

By Ron Pemstein (VOA-Washington)

The State Department has denounced black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan's travels to Libya and Iran. The State Department avoids taking positions on whether Farrakhan's travels to Libya and Iran and statements he has made there are treasonous. However, spokesman Nicholas Burns says Farrakhan's behavior in going to those places is shameful.

"I think it's shameful that an American citizen, much less a major religious leader in the United States, would cavort with dictators like Gaddafi and the Iranian leadership. I think it's shameful that he would stand in Teheran and declare that his fellow countrymen live in a country which is the "Great Satan."

The State Department has previously criticized Minister Farrakhan for failing to raise the case in Libya of passengers killed in 1988 in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Libya has refused to allow the extradition of two Libyan suspects to stand trial in Britain or the US in connection with the bombing. Both Libya and Iran are continually condemned by the United States for their opposition to the peace negotiations in the Middle East.

Steven Spielberg Buys Rights for Grossman Book:

Steven Spielberg has bought the film rights to the book by Israeli author David Grossman called "There are Zig-zag Kids" that's been published in the U.S. this year. His earlier book, "See Chapter Entitled: Love" is being produced as a movie by Mike Newall, director of the film "Four Weddings and a Funeral."

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