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Tuesday, 18 May, 1999, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
Result fuels optimism in Middle East
Palestinian newspaper reader
Hoping for peace - a Palestinian checks the election results
Arabs in Israel, Palestine and the rest of the Middle East have cautiously welcomed Ehud Barak's landslide victory in the Israeli elections.

Israel Elections Special Report
The country's Arab politicians said they were happy with the result, though feelings were mixed with disappointment over the relatively low voter turnout in the Arab community.

"At least we'll have the knowledge that Barak won primarily on the Jewish vote and not because of the Arabs," said Hadash party spokesman, Dror Nissan.

Palestinian congratulations

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat welcomed Mr Barak's victory and said he hoped the change in leadership would help revive the stalled Middle East peace process.

"I respect completely the choice of this democratic election and I give my good wishes to Mr Barak," he said.

Asked if he believed peace efforts would now move forward, Mr Arafat replied: "We hope so."

And Palestinian Culture and Information Minister, Yasir Abd-Rabbuh, urged Mr Barak to learn from outgoing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's defeat.

"Mr Barak and his alliance should learn a lesson from the defeat of the extremist right wing, from the defeat of the course of aggression, extremism and expansion," he told Palestinian radio.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saib Urayqat told the Egyptian news agency Mena that the elections "prove that the Israeli people have chosen peace".

He called on Mr Barak to "advance the peace process, implement the agreements and stop unilateral actions, especially settlement activity".

Hamas doubts

But Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin has described the election as "another trick by Israeli politicians," adding: "It is not going to lead the Palestinians to anything."

"Likud and Labor are the same things," the Islamic Resistance Movement chief told reporters. "Both want to deprive the Palestinians of their land and their right to an independent homeland."

According to the Mena agency, Hamas spokesman Ibrahim Ghawshah called on the Palestinian people not to be "over-optimistic" about Mr Barak's victory.

"When it comes to the main issues of Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, water and borders, Likud and Labour are both sides of the same coin, and there is not much difference between Mr Barak and Netanyahu on these issues," he said.

Some Arabs optimistic

Some states in the Middle East reacted to the Israeli election results with guarded optimism.

The Egyptian and Jordanian Governments were relieved to see the fall of Mr Netanyahu, who they blamed for the failure of the Middle East peace process and saw as a danger to regional security.

In the Middle East, all eyes are on Mr Barak
Jordan's Information Minister, Nasser Lawzi, expressed hope that Mr Netanyahu's successor would breathe new life into the peace talks.

In a statement, he said Mr Barak's win "constitutes a positive opportunity to renew the Israeli commitment to the peace process in the Middle East according to international legitimacy".

Egypt's Government expressed its willingness to co-operate with the new Israeli leader.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa, hoped Mr Barak's strong mandate would give him room to manoeuvre.

"We expect quick activity to compensate for the time that has been lost for three years, " Mr Moussa said.

An editorial in the pro-government newspaper Al-Akhbar was more cautious.

The paper said Israeli politicians: "ultimately seek to serve the interests of their country not the interests of the Arabs".

'So-called' peace process

Other Middle Eastern leaders sounded a note of scepticism, cautioning against too much optimism and warning that the new leader should be judged by his actions not by his words.

In some states, expectations of substantive changes in policy are low.

"Now Mr Barak has been given a mandate by the Israeli electorate ... to move from the election atmosphere to the genuine peace atmosphere, and realize a just and comprehensive peace," said Ahmad al-Asad, a member of the Syrian National Progress Front.

The pro-government newspaper Tishrin called on Mr Barak to effect a "radical change" in Israeli policy towards a full withdrawal from the occupied territories, the Syrian news agency Sana reported.

In Lebanon, the prime minister dismissed the change in Israel's government as cosmetic.

But perhaps the most sceptical assessment of the Israeli election results came from Iran.

Iran's state-owned radio said the election of Mr Barak would not bring peace to the Middle East.

"Irrespective of the Zionist regime's election results, political analysts believe that these elections will not give a glimmer of hope to the so-called peace process in the Middle East," the radio said.

In the broadcast, Mr Barak came under fire for saying, immediately after his victory, that Israel would not give up Jerusalem.

Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres: "An unbelievable victory"
Former Finance Minister Meir Shitrit: "Sad and painful moment"
Yasser Arafat: I give my good wished to Mr Barak
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat: "We must not waste any time"
See also:

16 May 99 | Middle East
17 May 99 | Middle East
17 May 99 | Middle East
17 May 99 | Israel elections
17 May 99 | Israel elections
15 Jul 99 | Israel elections
17 May 99 | Middle East
11 Nov 99 | Israel elections
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