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                             ISRAEL
                              FAXX

Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       May 31, 1996 V4, #99
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Netanyahu is Apparent Winner

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel's opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be headed for victory in Israel's election for prime minister, but his lead is so small that the final outcome must await the counting of 150,000 absentee ballots, which begins today.

Netanyahu's lead is just 21,000 votes out of nearly 3 million cast, a margin of just 0.7 percent. But analysts believe it will likely be enough to put him in office unless the absentee ballots unexpectedly reverse the voting patterns of the general population.

Neither Netanyahu nor Prime Minister Shimon peres has issued a formal statement, and Peres ordered his ministers not to comment until the final results are known. But Netanyahu's spokesman says the likely winner has expressed a commitment to pursue the Middle East peace process -- although on tougher terms than the current government as he laid out in the campaign -- and to heal the rift in Israeli society which the close election results underscored.

On Thursday, Israel Radio broadcast an interview with Netanyahu conducted shortly before Election Day, in which he outlined what his first priorities would be if he were elected.

"The first thing that I will do is to change the path toward peace, to change it to a different direction that I believe can bring us a secure peace. In practice, this means that we will not disregard the facts that have been established since Oslo, but we will make sure that the other side, the Palestinian side, keeps all its obligations. Secondly, we'll return freedom of action for the IDF and the Israeli security forces to act against terrorists as needed."

Netanyahu said this will not be an easy job, but he said he is confident he can overcome the kind of terrorism which hit Israel earlier this year, and severely hurt public confidence in the previous government. He also said he will offer the Palestinians what he called a "generous" autonomy plan in final status negotiations. But he said he will not agree to the creation of a Palestinian state or to any division of Jerusalem.

"I would offer the Palestinians the opportunity to run just about every aspect of their daily lives, with the exception of security and foreign affairs, that will remain in our hands. I will prevent the re-partition of Jerusalem. I will ensure its unity. And we will close the PLO offices in the city. I think that this is a different path, a new path, one that will give us the security we crave and the peace we deserve."

Analysts attribute Netanyahu's ability to eliminate Peres' strong early lead in the race to Israeli concerns about security in the wake of the four terrorist bombings earlier this year.

Palestinians expressed concern at the possible Netanyahu victory, but also hope that he will moderate his campaign positions if he actually gets into the prime minister's office. A spokesman for the militant group Hamas said Israelis have shown they are not interested in peace and predicted renewed conflict. Some officials of the Palestinian Autonomy Authority expressed pessimism at the possible result of the Israeli election, but others noted Netanyahu's commitment to continue the peace process and said they hope the situation will not be as bad as some think. The Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, has not commented.

Israel's Election Commission will begin counting the absentee ballots this morning, a process which could take until sometime on Sunday. Only then will Israelis, Palestinians and everyone else know for sure who the next prime minister of Israel will be.

Election results

The Israeli public, after going to sleep under the impression that Shimon Peres had been re-elected prime minister, woke up Thursday to find out the exact opposite: Benjamin Netanyahu, after a preliminary count of 100% of the polling stations, leads Peres 50.35% - 49.65%.

The results do not include the votes of the soldiers, the navy, prisoners, those who are hospitalized, and questionable ballots. The final count of these ballots, which represent another 150,000 votes, is expected to be completed Friday. The bulk of these votes are from the military, which traditionally votes towards the right of the political spectrum.

Elections for Knesset: The two major parties lost much of their strength, while the religious parties gained greatly, and two new parties will be impressively represented in the 14th Knesset. The preliminary results are as follows (minor changes may occur in the final count):

Labor              - 33         Likud                   - 31
Shas               - 11         NRP                     - 10
Meretz             - 9          Yisrael BaAliyah        - 7
Hadash (Arab list) - 5          United Torah Judaism    - 4
Third Way          - 4          United Arab List        - 4
Moledet            - 2

Among the Jewish vote, Netanyahu is leading by almost 11%. Although the Arabs voted overwhelmingly in favor of Peres, giving him well over 90% of the vote, and despite their relatively high voting rate

Tens of thousands of Israeli-Arabs abstained, by placing a blank slip of paper in the ballot box. Loudspeakers from mosques and cars instructed Arab residents to go to the polls; PLO radio and Jordanian television also broadcast calls to Arab residents of Israel to vote.

Following the release of the TV polls at 10:00 PM which predicted a victory for Peres, hundreds of Arab youth in Nazareth and other villages mobbed the streets and told reporters: "We the Arabs decided who would be the Prime Minister of Israel. Never will we allow the Jewish Nationalist camp to return to power."

Reactions

Other reactions to the apparent Netanyahu victory:

"I feel like packing up my suitcases and leaving the country."

  • Mrs. Leah Rabin

"The Jewish people decided that Netanyahu is good for the Jews."

  • MK Tzachi HaNegbi (Likud)

"This is the absolute proof that there is a God."

  • Minister Yosi Sarid (Meretz), referring to the fact that Meretz lost only 2 seats, despite the polls to the contrary and the Peres loss.

"It's worthwhile to be cautious and to wait for the final results."

  • Former Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir. He also said that he thinks a national unity government will not be formed.

"Whether we win or lose, we will not agree to a national unity government."

  • Labor Party Secretary Nissim Zvilli

"A great thank you to all of the Arab voters!"

  • Minister Uzi Baram, when he thought that Peres had won.

Sharansky's Olim Party Wins Seven Knesset Seats

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

One of the big winners in Israel's parliament elections was the new party of recent immigrants, led by the former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky. Results indicate the party will enter Israel's 120-member knesset with seven seats.

Israel is a country which has absorbed successive waves of immigration -- absorbing each into various parts of its political mainstream. But the flood of more than 600,000 immigrants from the former USSR during the last seven years was unprecedented. And, this group of immigrants had more trouble fitting into Israeli society.

Experts offer many theories for this, including the sheer size of the group in a country of just over 5 million people. They also point to the high expectations of the generally well-educated former Soviet immigrants and to what some call 'absorption fatigue' among other Israelis, who have already accepted the earlier waves of immigrants.

Whatever the combination of reasons, Israel's most-famous former Soviet immigrant -- Natan Sharansky -- decided last year the best way to protect the interests of these newcomers and to convince more Jews to come to israel from the former Soviet republics, was to start a political movement.

Sharansky and his party have succeeded in that, becoming one of the key political powers in the new Israeli parliament. Sharansky will almost certainly be a minister in the next Israeli government, and he will be in the position he wanted -- able to affect policy, particularly spending policy, toward the settlement of recent immigrants and the effort to bring more.

The halls of Israel's parliament building will be a much different setting from the Soviet prison Sharansky was in just 10 years ago. But he sees the transition in a different way. He says that in his mind he has not gone from prisoner to leader, but rather from hero to "dirty politician." But he says he is willing if he can use his new political platform to bring more former Soviet Jews to Israel and help settle the ones who are already here.

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