"Our policy will remain the same," President Bill Clinton said in a first reaction to the growing likelihood that the Labour party will be ousted from office. "If Israel is prepared to take risks for peace, we will do our best to reduce the risks and increase the security of those who do that."
Indeed, Mr Clinton noted that it was a Likud prime minister, Menachem Begin, who set in motion the peace process, inviting then Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to address the Knesset in 1977, and two years later signing a peace treaty with Egypt, the first with one of Israel's Arab neighbours.
The President also claimed to detect some softening of Mr Netanyahu's hardline approach at the close of the campaign. "We have to wait and see," he told reporters, but whatever the result, the US would continue its support for "the people of Israel and the process of peace".
Even so, a Netanyahu victory, implying renewed Jewish settlements on the West Bank and an uncompromising stance on the return of the Golan Heights to Syria, will vastly complicate the US-sponsored peace process. For that reason, the Clinton administration had delivered everything short of a formal endorsement of Mr Peres.
So close will be the result, officials here say, that whoever wins will not be able to claim a mandate. But relations between the US and Israel are bound to worsen at least in the short term, if it is the Likud leader.Reuse content