Today's Story Line

What didn't happen in the run-up to today's election in Israel is as important as who will become the next leader. No terrorist bombs went off during the campaign, a sign that the anti-Israel Islamic group Hamas may have dropped its terrorist tactics. In the 1996 election, Hamas bombs helped bring the Israeli right wing to power. Since then, a crackdown on Hamas and a Palestinian desire to win more land has made Hamas think twice. Quote of note: "Hamas is trying successfully to get itself into mainstream Palestinian politics. But that doesn't mean the movement is going to abandon armed struggle, or sacrifice its ideology, or admit that its erstwhile stances have come to nothing." - Khalid Amayreh, political analyst from the West Bank town of Hebron.

Without the Hamas threat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost his "security first" campaign edge. He may lose to a dovish Labor leader, Ehud Barak, who gained support in the final days when two other candidates dropped out. A Barak victory will likely bring a flurry of diplomacy to revive the Mideast peace process.

This year saw the leaders of two giant nations, Russia and America, face impeachment - and win. For President Boris Yeltsin, the failure by the lower house to pass a single charge against him on Saturday has revived his political clout. Now he can use it to win approval for a new prime minister and push through economic reforms.

American football and basketball are being exported slowly to Europe. In two German cities, football has begun drawing big crowds. Quote of note: "Some NFL marketing guys think [football] is transferable like food or music. It's a nice diversion; people will go; end of story." - Andrei Markovits, a political scientist, University of California, Santa Cruz.

- Clayton Jones World editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB * STATE OF THE BUDDING STATE: Before traveling to Gaza this time, Mideast bureau chief Scott Peterson was told things had changed. "It's all glass buildings and dirt roads," said one friend, joking because corruption in the past diverted cash into the building of fine homes for the well-placed. Two years ago, Scott says, there had been little to see of the budding state of Palestine. Some stop-light poles were going up over sand roads. The airport was making headway. This time there were shiny office buildings and - contrary to what he had heard - perfectly paved main roads and sidewalks. New cars mingle with donkey-cart traffic. Scott says the genteel atmosphere extends to Palestinian officials. Many, grizzled heroes of the Palestinian wars of the 1970s and '80s, these days offer visitors the choice of sweetener or sugar.

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