JERUSALEM -- The opposition Likud Party, scoring major victories in local elections across the country, sent Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a disheartening message Wednesday about his peace agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
"I see in this the beginning of the end of this government," said Ron Nahman, Likud mayor of the West Bank settlement of Ariel. "This victory is actually the public response to the outbursts of Rabin...They are beginning to understand the agreement with Arafat."
In Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and five other cities, candidates aligned with the Likud won key mayoral posts, riding the wave of uneasiness with the national government's peace initiatives.
Roni Milo, Israel's police minister under former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, will become the new mayor of Tel Aviv, defeating Labor's Avigdor Kahalani by a six-point margin.
Milo, a tough political operative for Likud during Shamir's own losing campaign last year, ran on an independent ticket, calling his platform "apolitical." He promised to build a subway in Israel's most populous city.
Labor hung on in the northern port city of Haifa where Avraham Mitzna carried 60 percent of the vote. Haifa, a predominantyly blue-collar city, has always had a Labor mayor at its head.
Jerusalem's new mayor-elect, Ehud Olmert, dismissed Rabin's suggestion that his election could have "unpleasant" consequences for the peace process, noting that he has consistently voted in favor of Palestinian autonomy. Olmert did, however, vote against Rabin's deal with the PLO, signed in Washington Sept. 13, saying he fears the agreement will lead to an independent Palestinian state.
"I was surprised to hear from the prime minister that he thinks this is a negative development which may affect the peace process," he said at a news conference in Jerusalem Wednesday.
"Relating this to the election of the new mayor of Jerusalem...I think this is a major error of judgment on the part of the prime minister," he said.
Likud Party Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu said the election results showed the country did not back Rabin's accord with the PLO.
"He wanted a test, he got it," Netanyahu said.