A promise of peace with security Netanyahu asks Arabs to 'join us on the path'

June 03, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- To the chants of "Let's Go, Bibi," premier-elect Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu claimed his victory in a speech before tumultuous supporters yesterday.

He promised them peace with security and extended an invitation to Palestinians and other Arab countries to "join us on the path of real peace, the path of security for all the nations of the area."

In another, more subdued gathering, Prime Minister Shimon Peres publicly wished his successor well and urged Netanyahu to carry out agreements signed by Israel with the Palestinians.

It was the first time either man had spoken publicly since the counting of absentee ballots confirmed Netanyahu's victory by 29,457 votes just before the start of the Jewish Sabbath on Friday.

Peres will relinquish the post he held for just six months after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as soon as Netanyahu forms a Cabinet approved by parliament. He has 45 days to do so, but aides said yesterday that it might be done in two weeks.

Peres spoke yesterday at a Hebrew University board of governor's ceremony while, across town, Netanyahu addressed a convention hall packed with cheering supporters, many of them young people.

They chanted "Bibi, King of Israel." They roared with approval at the appearance of right-wing hard-liner Ariel Sharon. They drummed up a soccer cheer that said, "Ho-hah, Peres ate it," which Netanyahu tried unsuccessfully to dampen.

Both candidates offered polite acknowledgments to the other, after a campaign in which they had traded nothing but vitriol.

"I want to wish my successor all the best," Peres said in his speech.

Netanyahu extended his "thanks and esteem for Peres, who did a lot for Israel."

Netanyahu did not make any policy revelations in his victory speech, but the tone was conciliatory and encompassing. He invited Israeli Arabs, secular Jews and all segments of the society to join together under "the principles of equality and justice for everyone."

"The campaign is behind us. We are in a different period," he told his supporters. "We have to unify our forces. To those who voted for me and those who didn't, I say, 'I intend to be the prime minister of all of you.' "

Netanyahu devoted a large part of his speech to the economy, in sharp contrast to the campaign, when both candidates concentrated on the peace process.

He promised to speed the process of privatization to have a "real, free economy."

"I believe that the state of Israel can be one of the leading, most prosperous countries of the world," he said.

Netanyahu said relations with the Clinton administration, which had actively supported Peres to continue the peace process, "are as strong as a rock, and I'm sure it will continue that way for the next four years."

He revealed little of his intentions toward the peace negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians, saying only: "We intend to continue the process of dialogue to achieve a stable peace, a real peace, a peace with security.

"Strength, security is the basis for real peace."

Netanyahu, 46, won the election with relentless criticism of the Labor government's peace moves. Although he said he would respect signed agreements, he also has promised to sharply curtail Palestinian autonomy and to block Syrian demands for return of the Golan Heights.

In his speech, Peres urged Netanyahu not to undermine the agreements that were signed during the tenure of Rabin and Peres.

"Our nation must respect the agreements that we have achieved," he said. "We must go on with the Palestinians" rather than "spread around mistrust and hatred and accusations."

"We have to reach an agreement with the Syrians and an agreement with the Lebanese," he said. "We don't have a choice. They don't have a choice. The only alternative [is] bloodshed and darkness and disappointment."

Peres, 72, gave little indication of his plans after leaving office, noting only that "while I am changing my post, I am not going to change my positions."

Since his victory became apparent, Netanyahu has huddled with the leaders of other parties to begin to put together a coalition in the parliament. He must have parliamentary approval for his Cabinet of ministers.

He arrived last night at the Jerusalem convention hall with his wife, Sarah, 37, and warmly greeted the other principals in his Likud bloc. He hugged many of them like old friends, although the party had been beset by bitter rivalries and seething accusations.

As he spoke in the convention center, cameras cast his image on a large video screen behind him, as though to emphasize the medium that contributed so much to his success. On the screen, Netanyahu's ruddy complexion became warm; his eyes took on a steely glint in the lights; he pointed his finger and pounded his fist to emphasize his speech.

Some analysts will attribute the narrow victory of Netanyahu to his television skills, and particularly to the debate last week in which Netanyahu aggressively attacked a wooden-seeming Peres.

Pub Date: 6/03/96

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