THOUGH BENJAMIN Netanyahu became Israeli's prime minister by less than one percent in late May, the election victory gives him a clear mandate to make changes in the Middle East peace process, according to Likud Party supporters.

“We want peace, but not at the crazy pace that (defeated Prime Minister Shimon Peres) was going, making concessions here and there, giving away our land,” said Ze'ev Ben Ami, 37, a teacher who lives in the occupied West Bank and who campaigned for Likud.

News of Netanyahu's win was met with silence by the PLO leadership in Gaza. Observers say the PLO is less hopeful about meetings with the new Israeli leadership than about the final-status peace talks which are scheduled to resume soon.

But June 3, in his first speech since the election, Netanyahu delivered a conciliatory message calling for peaceful relations with the Arabs. “this evening I stretch out my hand in peace to all the Arab leaders and all of our neighbors, our Palestinian neighbors,” he said.

Arabs leaders are cautious, but hopeful, about Netanyahu's promises to nurture relations with Jordan and Egypt and to continue dialogue with the Palestinians. Still, they are likely to withhold judgment until Netanyahu forms his government. One telltale of the new prime minister's intentions will be whether he withdraws Israeli troops from Hebron, on the West Bank, as Israel had pledged under Peres to do by mid-June. (Stephanie Nolan)