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                             ISRAEL
                              FAXX

Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       May 29, 1996 V4, #98
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Clinton Isn't Endorsing Anybody, But...

By Deborah Tate (VOA-White House)

As Israelis go to the polls to choose a new prime minister today, President Clinton pledges to support Israel if it continues to pursue the peace process. Clinton is not publicly endorsing either Prime Minister Shimon Peres or his challenger, Likud candidate Benjamin Netanyahu.

But he is expressing support for the peace process -- an effort begun by Peres and his predecessor, the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

"The United States supports the peace process, and we have made it clear that if further steps are taken that entail risks for peace, we will stand with the government and the people of Israel, the leaders of Israel, in minimizing those risks. We will do everything we possibly can to do it.

Netanyahu has said he would not turn back what has been accomplished. But his focus on security and his stated intention to renew expansion of settlements on occupied Arab lands have promised to at least to slow the process.

It's Neck and Neck Down the Election Stretch

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

The race for prime minister of Israel keeps getting closer, according to public-opinion polls. Two polls published Tuesday show Prime Minister Shimon Peres with a lead of just three percent over his challenger, Benjamin Netanyahu. And, the polls have a three percent margin of error.

The outcome of the prime minister's race will determine the future course of Middle East peacemaking and pollsters say they cannot reliably predict who will win.

The two final pre-election surveys -- taken after Sunday's debate between the candidates -- both give Peres 51.5 percent to Netanyahu's 48.5 percent. Pollsters say that makes the race too close to call. Peres is offering a plan for rapid peacemaking, while Netanyahu says he will move more cautiously and provide more security.

As the polls were published Tuesday, Israeli soldiers began voting at their bases throughout the country and in occupied areas in Lebanon, the West Bank and on the Golan Heights. Many of the soldiers will be on security duty when the rest of the population votes. As part of the security plan, Israel has imposed a tight closure on the Palestinian areas -- stopping the flow of goods and workers in both directions and barring Palestinians from Israeli settlements.

Business Leaders Supporting Labor Party's Peres

By Patricia Golan (VOA-Jerusalem)

Business leaders in Israel have broken a long tradition of political impartiality and have come out in favor of Shimon Peres, the Labor Party candidate. They say they fear the policies of his opponent, Benjamin Netanyahu, could lead to the collapse of the peace process, a renewal of conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and an end to the economic benefits the peace process has brought.

Israeli business leaders are wary of Netanyahu's conservative Likud Party. In a recent full-page advertisement in Israel's Hebrew newspapers, the country's leading industrialists proclaim their support for Peres and for the Arab-Israeli peace process he has shaped.

Netanyahu and the Likud oppose the plan to give the Palestinians self-rule in wide areas of the West Bank, in addition to the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu prefers a more limited version of West Bank autonomy, has vowed to increase Jewish settlement activity in the area, and has ruled out the return of the Golan Heights to Syria.

Israel is booming. Since 1992 the economy has grown by an average 7 percent a year. For many of Israel's biggest companies, the peace process has opened up trade and investment with countries, particularly in east Asia, that used to fear offending Arab oil suppliers. The Israelis are also beginning to develop economic relations with many Arab countries.

In remarks to reporters this week, Peres said Netanyahu's hardline policies would isolate Israel once again. Those polices, Peres warned, would stop foreign investment and reverse the opening of foreign markets.

Economics editor of the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Nehemia Strassler says businessmen are making more money now they never did before as a result of the peace process with the PLO. Strassler says that -- whether or not it's true -- the perception in the Israeli business community is that this boom will go down the drain if Netanyahu wins. Israeli business analysts say there would be at least a short-term downturn following a Likud victory, if only because of the uncertainty caused by a change of government.

But Likud officials say their plans for more privatization and other economic reforms would be good for business and that since they would continue the peace process in their own way, Israel's new economic opportunities abroad should not be affected.

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