Israeli Election: Rivals 'two faces of same Zionist coin'

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For the first time in half a century, Arab readers were treated to massive press coverage of an Israeli election.

The Palestinian press showed some division along Israeli political lines. Elsewhere, reactions were more confused.

An editorial in the Gaza-based Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah, said a Likud victory with Binyamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister would be better for the Palestinians since his policy would inevitably lead to "international isolation of Israel and pressures from the United States similar to the pressures that isolated [the last Likud prime minister Yitzhak] Shamir".

But the majority of Palestinian papers quoted the Palestine leader Yasser Arafat's call for Israeli Arab voters "to side with the peace camp".

In much of the Arab press news gave way to commentary. Commentators accused Israel of aggression, and took a cynical view of the election as a diversion from the suffering of the Palestinians. "Today, the Arabs study, examine and discuss the Israeli election results, as if there was a difference between Likud and Labour consideration of Arab lives," was the scornful comment of Jihad El Khazen, editor of Al-Haya. "[Shimon] Peres is no different from Netanyahu," said a leader in the Qatari daily Al-Orouba, "they are two faces of the same Zionist coin".

Israel's partners in the peace process, who are bracing themselves to deal with Mr Netanyahu, had a more guarded reaction.

"Policies, not personalities, would decide the fate of the Middle East peace process," said a commentary on Cairo radio.

The Jordanian paper Al-Rai said what mattered was the next Israeli government's commitment to continue the peace talks, regardless of the election results.