Netanyahu tells Israel: "The Lord will bless His people with peace"


30,000 Christian Arabs help to tip the scales

ON May 29, 60 per cent of Israel's Jews said a resounding "no!" to the policies of the Labour-led government, and elected Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu as their new prime minister. And if a pre-election opinion poll of the country's Christian Arabs accurately indicated how they voted, it was this small segment of Israel's population that clinched Netanyahu's win.

The result of the most crucial elections in the country's history stunned the world. While none of the international news media had dared predict the outcome, the weeks preceding the vote had seen almost every major news service rooting for incumbent Shimon Peres, and talking in dark and apocalyptic terms of the consequences of his defeat. To vote for Peres was to vote for hope, they said. Netanyahu had played on his countrymen's fears, and only those who had been terrorised by him would go his way.

Foreign governments and leaders too had brazenly weighed in on Peres' side. US President Bill Clinton - who in recent months had made no effort to hide his personal endorsement of the Labour leader - warned Israelis in a barely veiled threat the day before the elections that "if they decide to stay on the path of peace, we will share the risk..."

This deceptive implication-that those opposed to the peace process are, again in Clinton's words, "enemies of peace" - was exhaustively used by Israel's leftists, and by governments and journalists around the world, to demonize and smear a peace-loving people who, as the election results conclusively show, comprise an overwhelming majority of the Jews of Israel.

Alongside this reality emerged a surprising irony. Had 30,000 Christian Arabs not voted for "Bibi", 60 per cent of Israel's Jews would have had to face the prospect of another four years of Labour rule, in which almost every last value these Jews held dear would have been taken from them for good.

This story, almost completely ignored by all the world's media, emerged on the night before the elections, when the results of a May 26 poll conducted by the Mechric Institute - an affiliate of the Middle East Christian Committee - were published on the Internet.

Mechric found that, although Israel's Christian Arabs had for 30 years traditionally voted for Labour, around 30,000 of them would this year put their crosses alongside the Likud leader's name. The number could not have been more crucial. When the final election results were made known, just 29,457 votes separated Netanyahu from Peres.

Observers accredited the shift in Christian support to reports that the Labour government planned to pull out of southern Lebanon after the elections, leaving Israel's Christian allies in the security zone at the mercy of the country's Syrian occupiers and the forces of radical Islam. Another factor is thought to have been the Peres government's unwillingness to shelter Christian Palestinians targeted by the PLO for "collaborating" with Israel.

It is not known whether news of the Christian Arab voting trend reached Netanyahu. But in his victory speech at Jerusalem's International Convention Centre on June 2, he mentioned the role and place Israel's non-Jewish citizens hold in the country, and of the equal opportunities they can expect under his leadership.

The premier-in-waiting indicated too his awareness that the answer to Israel's age-old yearning for peace lies in other hands. To loud and sustained applause, he reminded his joyous audience of the Biblical promise:"The Lord will give strength to His people. The Lord will bless His people with peace."

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