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World - Middle East

Palestinians express qualified support for Barak

arab men
For most Palestinians, it was business as usual as Israelis went to the polls

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Israeli elections

May 17, 1999
Web posted at: 12:32 p.m. EDT (1632 GMT)

In this story:

To many, vote is referendum on peace process

Hope is tempered with caution

Hamas: Attacks on Israel will continue


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had a simple message Monday for Israelis heading to the polls: "Elect peace."

Short in words, the message was long in meaning: a carefully couched appeal to vote for Labor 's moderate candidate, Ehud Barak .

In public statements, Palestinian leaders have tried to remain neutral in Israel's race for the premiership, fearing intervention could boost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's chances.

But as they waited on the sidelines for Israel to elect a new leader, Palestinians could not hide their enthusiasm for the prospect of the end of Netanyahu's hard-line government.

"The elections are an internal Israeli matter but we are partners in a peace process," said PLO Executive Committee member Suleiman Najjab.

"The Palestinian people, who suffered at the hands of Netanyahu, are hanging their hopes on anyone but him," he said.

Aides said Arafat was being updated throughout the day on the voting and was expected to watch the televised results Monday night.

Asked by reporters as he entered his seaside Gaza office what message he had for the Israelis on their big day, Arafat said simply, "To elect peace."

To many, vote is referendum on peace process

Many Palestinians and other Arabs consider the elections to be a referendum on the peace process.

"The votes of the Israeli people will indicate how high the peace process is on their priority list. Are they ready to give the pro-peace parties a chance to make progress?" asked the daily al-Quds newspaper in an editorial on Monday.

"Israelis should know now, more than at any time before, the connection between progress in the peace process and internal Israeli issues such as economics and security," Al Quds wrote.

arab woman
An Arab woman casts her vote at a polling station near Jerusalem  

Israeli-Palestinian peace moves have ground to a standstill during Netanyahu's three-year tenure.

Netanyahu, who froze peace talks with the Palestinians in December, has said they must fulfill a long list of demands before he brings Israel back to the table. He also has pushed for an expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank that would make Palestinian statehood, something he opposes, virtually impossible.

Barak, the leader of the Labor Party and a former army chief of staff, wants Israel to return to its commitments under the Wye River peace agreement brokered by President 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.

Enthusiasm is tempered with caution

In the Al Ayyam newspaper, editor-in-chief and Arafat adviser Akram Hanyieh wrote that Israelis will face a choice between a return to confrontations espoused by Netanyahu or a path that dares to raise the slogan "money for education not for settlements."

He added that the days when Palestinians believed that all Zionist parties were "two faces of the same coin" were over.

"It is easy to oversimplify and hastily write off the difference between Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak as the difference between Pepsi and Coca-Cola," he wrote in Monday's edition.

"It's also easy to fall prey to fantasies surrounding the advent of Barak, as if he has the solutions to all of the region's problems," Hanyieh wrote.

Hamas: Attacks on Israel will continue

The guarded optimism that a Barak administration would result in the chance for improved Israeli-Palestinian relations is not universal, however.

"Neither is better than the other," said Sheik Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of the hard-line Islamic group Hamas.

"If the right wing wins, we will not get our rights. If the left wins, we still won't get our rights," said Yassin, whose group opposes peace with Israel.

Yassin said Hamas militants would continue attacks against Israel regardless of who won Monday's election.

"The Qassam fighter will continue to fight, but the difficulties he faces affects when, where and how he will strike," Yassin told Reuters, referring to Hamas' military wing.

"It doesn't depend on whether Labor or Likud are in power," he said.

CNN's Rula Amin contributed to this report.

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Palestinian perspective: Election viewed with skepticism
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Israeli Elections

Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), PALESTINE, By Dr. Eng. Baker Abdel Munem
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Barak's lead over Netanyahu grows in Israeli poll
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May 12, 1999
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May 11, 1999
Netanyahu orders PLO offices in Jerusalem closed
March 10, 1999

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