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Israel votes, Palestinians groan

By Reuters Staff
February 11, 2009

Posted by Wafa Amr.

PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/With each Israeli election since the 1993 historic Palestinian-Israeli interim peace deals, the Palestinians feel their situation has gone from bad to worse. This time, their sense of desperation deepened as they woke up to an Israeli political map strongly dominated by the right wing. People say the chances for peace and ending occupation seem more remote than ever. The editor-in-chief of the Palestinian official al-Hayat daily newspaper, Hafez al-Barghouthi, called the growing strength of the right-wingers in Israel the “Right-wing Tsunami”. Israel’s shift to the right has added to the Palestinians’ sense of hopelessness. “The victory of the Israeli right means an open invitation for the Palestinian factions to turn fanatic to confront the advocates of settlements and land theft,” Barghouthi wrote on election day.

Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima party led in Tuesday’s election with 28 seats, one seat over Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud in the 120-member parliament. The centre-left Labour party, which made peace with the Palestinians 16 years ago, suffered a heavy blow. The rise of Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party who has vowed to keep settlements and advocates tougher measures with the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, has added to the Palestinians’ despair.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said this election showed the Israelis were not focused on issues of peace, and any coalition that will be formed wil be unable to deliver on the requirements of peace by freezing Jewish settlements and ceding occupied land for a future Palestinian state.

In past Israeli elections, and there were four prime ministers since Oslo, the choice was often seen as between a hawkish camp and a peace camp. This time, many Palestinians saw Israelis choosing between the far-right, the right wing and the centre-right. The election campaign was overshadowed by Israel’s January’s 22-day offensive against Palestinian militants in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Voters were seeking a leader who can best assure their security. Palestinians fear this translates into more daily hardships, more violence, a continued land grab for Jewish settlements and the loss of hope for a peaceful settlement to end 42 years of occupation.

While the “peace camp” has lost support in Israel, lack of progress on peace has weakened the Palestinian peace negotiators significantly. A power struggle between the Islamist Hamas, which won a parliamentary vote in 2006 and seized control of Gaza Strip in 2007 from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his secular Fatah group, has seriously undermined peace efforts. Popular anger at Israel during the January war in Gaza and resentment of rival policies of Hamas and Abbas have hardened the Palestinians. Abbas’ aides fear the rise of the right-wing in Israel could boost hardliners and Hamas.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Um Mahmoud, 65, sat in her living room in the city of Ramallah watching Livni speak to a crowd in Tel Aviv on TV. The Palestinian woman said Palestinians’ living conditions would not improve under any Israeli leader. “They rule the world and they put us in a cage confined to borders running between one checkpoint to the other in Ramallah. In the good old days, before Oslo, we used to drive to Gaza Strip to eat fish and swim in the sea and come back the same day,” she said.

A right-wing government in Israel poses a challenge not only to Abbas’s peace policies, but it may also obstruct U.S. President Barack Obama’s efforts to achieve a two-state solution. Palestinian negotiators say they would abandon past negotiating strategies which have allowed talks to be held while settlements continue to grow. Netanyahu has ruled out freezing settlement activity. Any policy that does not lead to an improvement of the lives of Palestinians is a recipe for disaster for Abbas who has already lost credibility at home. Three days before the Israeli election, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said he saw no horizon for a peaceful settlement in the near future: ”I do not know of a single Israeli politician from any party from the extreme right to the extreme left  who I would expect to offer a reasonable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Fayyad said.

(PICTURE: A man reads a Palestinian newspaper showing the Israeli election story in Ramallah, West Bank, Feb 11, 2009. REUTERS/Fadi Arouri)


as the world looks to take a more progressive and diplomatic step, the israeli government will be heading the exact opposite way. In order to counter the more pragmatic, dplomatic, and fair appraoch that President Obama wants to take, israel will be represented by hardline religious fanatics. wasn’t there an up roar about hamas being elected to lead the palestinians and the world shut them out because they were a “terrorist organization”? well how is it any different now in israel, when you have people who openly talk about going after the palestinains and violating UN laws being elected? once again israel has dones its best to make sure conflicts, violence, and the occupation continues in the middle east.

Posted by sidney | Report as abusive

The facts in the article are accurate, but it doesn’t mention the corresponding Palestinian elections, which have moved from the right to the far-right in the same time frame.

Posted by Simcha | Report as abusive

Thanks, Simcha. As you say, there have been shifts away from the “peace camps” among both electorates. We point out that Hamas, which rejects the peace process and espouses violence against Israel, won the last Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006 and that a hardening of attitudes on either side is, some feel, something of a vicious circle.

Posted by Alastair Macdonald | Report as abusive

A minor observation for the Arabs: Israelis have lost confidence in the possibility of peace because the Palestinians continue to teach and preach hate, to celebrate terrorism, to call for the destruction of Israel from pulpits and political platforms and to reward Israeli concessions with terror. Oslo produced suicide bombings and shootings and the evacuation of Gaza produced rockets and kidnappings. Only adolescents and the criminally immature can possibly expect that there will be no reaction to ‘bad behavior’ To the Arabs: build a society based on modern civil rules, end the hate teaching and preaching, stop appealing to the west to save you from the consequences of your actions and Israel will be more forthcoming. Continue on your current path and you will find nothing but disaster.

Posted by Speedy | Report as abusive

According to Um Mahmoud, “the good old days’ were before Oslo (and the Palestinian suicide bombings and rocket attacks). Hmmmm…. What does that tell us? Want to be able to go to the beach and eat fish? Stop attacking your stronger, more powerful neighbor. When Israel left Gaza, that was a wasted opportunity to show that everyone that palestinians could live in peace.


I didn’t realize that israeli government and hamas were on the same level. if people consider israeli government to be so much better than hamas then why are we basically trying to compare the two and say “well its because of hamas, and hamas does this and does that”…lets talk about the facts. hamas is a by product of decades long occupation of palestine. there was never a hamas 30-40 years ago, so israel created its own problem. are the palestinians just supposed to sit there and have their land taken from them illegaly while the world does nothing about it? 2) israel may have left the territory of gaza but let’s not forget it created an economic choke hold on that strip of land, creating the world’s largest cage. they don’t allow food, water, medical supplies, fuel and electricity to run thru it, again giving hamas and is supporters another reason to fight. 3.) my fellow americans are so bling to what really goes on this world. a few hundered years ago, there were brave groups of men and women who took up arms in order to fight for their land and their freedom from a tyrannical super power that showed them no mercy.they are now called patriots and heroes in america, because of their struggle america was created after they fought of the british.4.) israel lost its under dog role when it acquired nuclear weapons and other large caches of WMDs, such as the ones used in the most reccent massacre on gaza. hamas has home made rockets that some kid, in a basement in new york can make and the worst damage it would do is break a hamas the answer for the palestinains? no and it never will be, but what do u expect a helpless population to do that is armed with rocks and water rockets to do when it is faced against the world’s military super power, its neighbors who have sold their souls to the devil and turned their back on them. in fact i give them credit for even being able to last this long against the israeli massacre machine. if the rest of the world had the heart and spirit they did, we would not be the neanderthals armed with WMDS that we have become.

Posted by sidney | Report as abusive

its easy for most americans to side with israel, considering you all allow your government to send U.S tax payer dollars to israel. i guess that’s one place where your tax dollars are not being wasted.the rest of the world, will watch and wait and see. we already expect the new israeli taliban government to make up a lame excuse and launch another attack on gaza. thousands more will die, however it will get to a point where someone, somewhere will get involved. will be iran, hezbollah, syria, maybe all 3. but my question to americans is are you willing to support israel all the way,to where you are willing to send your kids over there into a possible 3rd world war?? are u willing to risk another long and bloody war, one that would have potential to break the already fragile U.S economy completely? this blind support for a terrorist state has become the focal point for anti americanism thru out the world. you can thinks its easy to say, well we can just nuke them. but know that your so called “allies” saudia arabia, egypt, jordan, turkey are all right there, you think they are willing to tolerate the after effects of a nuclear weapon?? you might want to start asking yourself these questions and look for the answers, because the new israeli taliban government has ensured that you will be heading that way.

Posted by hassan | Report as abusive

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