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World - Middle East

Barak heads for landslide victory over Netanyahu

Barak
Barak: 'From this moment forward we are all together, we are one nation'

iconRELATED AUDIO:
Ehud Barak reacts to the news of his victory
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 ISRAEL ELECTIONS:
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CNN's coverage of Barak's victory speech
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'The people have decided': Netanyahu concedes defeat and steps down as leader of the Likud Party
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 ALSO:
Palestinians welcome Barak, hope peace process resumes

Clinton sees Barak's win as revival of Mideast peace efforts

Interactive INTERACTIVE:
A landslide onto shaky ground
 IN-DEPTH SPECIAL:
Israeli elections
 

May 17, 1999
Web posted at: 10:47 p.m. EDT (0247 GMT)

TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- Before a crowd of jubilant supporters, Ehud Barak, Israel's most decorated soldier, celebrated what appeared to be a landslide victory over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday and pledged to unite a divided nation.

"It is my intention to be everyone's prime minister. Whatever the differences of opinion between us, we are brothers," Barak declared early Tuesday in a Tel Aviv hotel, his comments frequently interrupted by singing and applause from Labor Party supporters.

Barak then headed to Rabin Square, the site where former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, also of the Labor Party, was assassinated in November 1995, to address thousands of Israelis who reveled in Barak's overwhelming success.

With 99.9 percent of the polling stations reporting, Barak led with 56 percent of the vote to 43.9 for Netanyahu. Exit polls projected a landslide win for Barak.

A half-hour after polling stations closed, a tearful Netanyahu conceded defeat before stunned followers and said he was stepping down as the Likud Party leader.

"I want to congratulate Ehud Barak for winning the election," Netanyahu said. He then announced he was taking a recess from politics.

"I think the time has come to take a break to be with my family, with my wife and children and decide on my future," he said.

But he hinted any absence from Israel's political scene would be brief. "I still have a lot to give to this country," he added.

Palestinian leaders welcomed Barak's victory, expressing hope that Barak would revive the Middle East peace process that has stalled under Netanyahu.

"I respect the outcome of the Israeli elections, and I congratulate Mr. Barak," a smiling Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat told reporters. Asked if he believed peace talks would now move forward, Arafat replied: "We hope so."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Monday's vote signaled that the Israeli people "want to make peace."

While Netanyahu froze peace talks with the Palestinians in December and has imposed a long list of conditions on resuming them, Barak has staked out a position as a moderate who wants to move the process along.

His campaign for prime minister also focused on Netanyahu's weak points -- social and economic issues.

However, voters told pollsters throughout the campaign they didn't see much difference on the issues between Netanyahu and Barak. The key has been Netanyahu's personality and whether he can be trusted, analysts said.

"Israeli voters have to decide if Netanyahu is a liar, and if he is a liar, is he a big liar, and if so, is that good for Israel," said Dan Margalit, a writer for the Ha'aretz newspaper.

Knesset expected to be fragmented

 ISRAEL ELECTIONS:
Preliminary returns for the 120-member Knesset*

  • One Israel - 27 seats
  • Likud - 19 seats
  • Center - 6 seats
  • National Religious Party - 5 seats
  • Shas - 17 seats
  • Meretz - 9 seats
  • Israel B'Aliya - 7 seats
  • Hadash - 3 seats
  • United Torah Judaism - 5 seats
  • Arab Democratic Party - 5 seats
  • National Union - 3 seats
  • Shinui - 6 seats
  • Israel Beiteinu - 4 seats
  • National Democratic Alliance - 2 seats
  • One Nation - 2 seats
*based on unofficial returns from 99.9 percent of polling stations
Source: Reuters

Voters on Monday also elected members of the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament, from among 31 contending parties.

The Knesset voted in December to hold early elections after it became clear that Netanyahu lacked parliamentary support for his handling of the peace process with the Palestinians.

An exit poll by Israel's Channel One projected that parties aligned with Barak would have 56 seats in the 120-member parliament, just short of a majority, while Netanyahu's allies would total 42. The remaining seats will go to centrist parties.

Some 79 percent of the 4.3 million eligible voters cast their ballots. The paper ballots from more than 7,000 polling stations around the country were to be counted by hand, and unofficial final results were not expected before Tuesday morning.

Police said they had detained 25 people in 180 election-related incidents, including suspected ballot fraud and fistfights.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who uniformly back Netanyahu, clashed Monday with secular activists who were stationed in their neighborhoods to monitor voting. In previous elections, some ultra-Orthodox Jews had been caught using dead people's identity cards to vote more than once.

Security forces also sealed off the West Bank and Gaza, barring entry to Palestinians, for polling day.

Three candidates drop out

The contest narrowed to a two-horse race on Sunday after the last-minute pullouts of Center Party candidate Yitzhak Mordechai, Israeli Arab Azmi Bishara and ultranationalist Benny Begin.

Their withdrawal dashed Netanyahu's hopes that no candidate would win the required outright majority, giving him a new head of steam for a second-round runoff against Barak on June 1.

Analysts had said Netanyahu's chances lay in a heavy turnout among his core ultra-Orthodox Jewish supporters and hopes that ex-Likud supporters who had backed Mordechai would throw their support behind him.

He also hoped to disprove reports that voters among the 700,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union -- a key element of his 1996 victory -- have deserted him in droves.

Voting ends personality-driven campaign

Throughout the personality-driven campaign, the one issue that substantially divided the two candidates -- how to revive the peace process -- barely rippled throughout the sometimes vicious campaign.

Netanyahu said the Palestinians must fulfill a long list of demands before he brought Israel back to the table.

He also backed a crisscross pattern of Jewish settlements in the West Bank that would make Palestinian statehood, something he opposes, virtually impossible.

Barak wants Israel to return to its commitments under the Wye River peace agreement brokered by U.S. President Bill Clinton last October.

The deal calls on Israel to cede land to the Palestinians in exchange for security measures. Barak also wants to contain Jewish settlements and advocates a separation from the Palestinians.



ELECTION BACKGROUND:
Jerusalem Dispatch: Single-issue election puts spotlight on Netanyahu
More choices, weaker voices
Analysis: Why is this election different from all others?
Palestinian perspective: Election viewed with skepticism
U.S. 'hired guns' leave their mark on Israeli politics
Expatriate finds Israelis very much involved in politics
Understanding the U.S.- Israel connection
From TIME.com: James Carville stirs Israel's melting pot

SPECIAL SECTION:
Israeli Elections


RELATED STORIES:
Barak favored over Netanyahu before Israel election
May 16, 1999
Likelihood of runoff big question as Israeli race winds down
May 15, 1999
Netanyahu pins re-election hopes on forcing runoff
May 14, 1999
Barak's lead over Netanyahu grows in Israeli poll
May 13, 1999
Ultra-Orthodox rabbis endorse Netanyahu for re-election
May 12, 1999
Israel, PLO welcome delay in office-closings order
May 11, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Israel's Institutions of Government
The Complete Guide to Palistine's Websites
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Home
The Middle East Network Information Center
Office of the Israeli Prime Minister
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Labor party
Likud party
Welcome to the Knesset - The Israeli Parliament
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