Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Can Likud Spring an Upset in Israeli Elections?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Can Likud Spring an Upset in Israeli Elections?

Article excerpt

What if Bill Clinton's blatant intervention in the Israeli election on the side of the left wing's Shimon Peres backfires? What if the right wing's Benjamin Netanyahu - to the consternation of the media and most leaders of the Jewish community in America - brings off an upset?

A keening "geshrei" would go up from doves around the world: Peace process doomed! Disaster looms! Yasser Arafat would go through the roof, gloom would pervade the halls of the United Nations and Syria's Hafez Assad would summon Warren Christopher to Damascus for the 21st time, demanding an explanation.

But after the shock wore off, the U.S. president would extend an invitation to the new leader for a state visit, the world's media would find new seriousness in Netanyahu, and high-level rejoicing would be heard in the capital of Jordan.

That's because the Israeli election this week is not about whether to pursue a peace. That pursuit is a given; neither war nor the status quo is an option.

The question is how to give Israelis a sense of personal and national security while giving Palestinian Arabs a sense of political and economic progress. The ultimate compromise would enable each to govern itself side by side.

Terrorists have twice jerked poll standings around. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a crazy rightist caused a spike in Labor's support, which was later flattened by Hamas's suicide bombings. Extremists, either Jewish or Arab, could still deliver a "revulsion vote" against their own mainstreams.

But polls are deceiving because this is the first Israeli election to be decided by Arabs and Russians. Peres is counting on Israeli Arabs, who support him overwhelmingly, but they might not turn out in the light of his need to punish Lebanon for harboring Hezbollah rocketeers.

Netanyahu is counting on Russian immigrants who seem to be splitting, but come from a tradition of misleading pollsters. My hunch is that the current Peres lead of 5 percentage points is really a dead heat.

Reached by cellular phone as he was about to address 100 rabbis, Netanyahu tells me, "Labor is talking the `ish' and we're talking the issues." This means that his opposition is running a negative personal campaign against him - "ish" means "the man" in Hebrew - while he is stressing the Golan Heights and Jerusalem. …

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