Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Israel votes, Palestinians groan
Posted by Wafa Amr.
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)