"Bibi" extends 'Hand of Peace"

Peace begins at home, but it must he continued abroad

PRIME MINISTER-ELECT Binyamin ("Bibi") Netanyahu this week pledged to unite Israeli society, invigorate the economy, ensure opportunities for all, give priority to education and pursue peace with Israel's neighbours.

In a 30-minute victory address to a triumphal audience of mostly party faithful in Jerusalem, he stressed that he would be the leader of all Israelis, Jews and Arabs,religious and secular. He also praised the contribution his defeated Labour Party rival, Shimon Peres, had made to Israel over the past 50 years.

The address came as Netanyahu embarked on the task of forming a governing coalition, which is expected to have a comfortable majority when it is presentedto the 120-seat Knesset, probably on June 17. The coalition is expected to include the religious parties, the Third Way - a Labour Party breakaway group that seeks greater caution in peace-making - andthe predominantly-Russian Immigrants' Party, led by Natan Sharansky. In his first major address since his razor-thin electoral victory, he emphasized the healing process he believed was necessary to restore the unity of a divided Israeli society. "First and foremost, peace must be reached at home - peace between us, peace among us," he told cheering supporters. He underscored the point by addressing "the whole population of Israel, those who voted for me and those who did not... I say to you that I intend to be the prime minister of everyone."

Netanyahu also struck a conciliatory tone and held out the "hand of peace" to the region's Arab leaders: "I said that peace begins at home, but it must be continued abroad," he declared. "We intend to further the process of dialogue with all our neighbours to reach a stable peace, a real peace, a peace with security." On Sunday, the first full working day since the election results were announced late on Friday afternoon, Netanyahu began the process of forming a governing coalition. He also moved to calm the volatile stock exchange and he accepted an invitation from US Secretary of State Warren Christopher to visit Washington once his government is installed. After major share indicators on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange lost more than 4% last Thursday on initial news that Netanyahu was likely to emerge as the winner, the market rose in quiet active trading early this week. In an attempt to restore calm to the markets, Netanyahu repeated his commitment to liberalize the economy and to accord priority to accelerating an expanded privatization programme. At the same time, the heads of the Israeli Chambers of Commerce and the Manufacturers' Association spearheaded a drive for a government of national unity, "which will project economic certaintyand stability."

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