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World - Middle East

Palestinians welcome Barak, hope peace process resumes

Arafat, arriving at his Gaza City office, called on Israelis to 'vote for peace' Monday

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May 17, 1999
Web posted at: 7:57 p.m. EDT (2357 GMT)

In this story:

Pleased Arafat offers Barak 'best wishes'

'Dry three years under Netanyahu'

Hamas vows to keep fighting


RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian leaders had remained publicly neutral before Israel's election Monday, but after preliminary results showed moderate Labor Party leader Ehud Barak soundly defeating hard-line incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, many expressed satisfaction and hope that the stalled peace process would resume.

"This is a sweeping loss for the Israeli fanatic right-wing," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian minister of information and culture.

In Gaza, several Palestinian officials who gathered at the office of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to watch the election results hugged one another when it became clear that Netanyahu had lost.

Pleased Arafat offers Barak 'best wishes'

Afterwards, a pleased-looking Arafat offered "best wishes" to Barak.

"I congratulate him," Arafat told reporters in Gaza City. Asked if he thought the left-leaning Barak would move the peace process forward, he answered: "We hope so."

Earlier Monday, Arafat called on Israelis to "vote for peace," which many considered a thinly veiled endorsement of Barak.

Netanyahu conceded defeat and announced he would quit as leader of the right-wing Likud Party after Israeli television exit polls projected Barak had won the election by a landslide.

'Dry three years under Netanyahu'

Asked if Barak would move the peace process forward, Arafat replied, 'We hope so'  

Ahmed Korei, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said he now hoped the peace process, suspended by Netanyahu since December, would proceed.

"The result showed that without a doubt the Israelis want to pursue the peace process. We hope that the dry three years under Netanyahu would be forgotten and hope would return by pursuing peace," said Korei, who helped engineer the 1993 Oslo interim peace deals.

Frustration with the lack of progress in the peace process has undermined the Palestinian Authority's credibility among its own people.

Palestinians want Barak to implement outstanding interim deals which would give them control over more of the West Bank and Gaza. They hope to conclude talks on permanent status issues within 12 months.

Barak has said he will put any peace deal with Arafat to a referendum. Barak also has vowed to revive stalled peace talks with Syria and pull Israeli occupation forces out of south Lebanon within a year.

"I hope this is a message from the Israeli people for peace," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN after the election.

Many have blamed hard-line incumbent Netanyahu for stalling the peace process  

"I don't think we'll have an easy ride with Mr. Barak," but there is a difference between a tough negotiator and a non-negotiator, he said.

To show good faith, Barak should "move immediately" to implement peace agreements and remove troops from the West Bank, Erakat said.

"We need to develop trust. The trust level is below zero now," he said.

Hamas vows to keep fighting

The Islamic militant movement Hamas dismissed the election result, saying there was no difference between Netanyahu and Barak.

"We don't have illusions. We look at Barak as no different from Netanyahu," said Ismail Abu Shanab, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. Earlier on Monday, Hamas vowed to continue attacks against Israel.

But other Arab leaders in the region promised to help the new Israeli prime minister negotiate peace with Palestinian leaders.

"Obviously we are fully committed to the peace process," said King Abdullah of neighboring Jordan, which has close historic ties with the Palestinians.

"Jordan has always had a commitment to move the process forward and to stand by our friends in Israel and the Palestinians," said the king, who plans to meet Tuesday with U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Israeli Elections

Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), PALESTINE, By Dr. Eng. Baker Abdel Munem
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