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Palestinians brace for rightwing Israel

18 January 2013, 15:14

Ramallah - The Palestinians are bracing for a new right-wing government that Israel's election is expected to produce, hoping that international and domestic moves will strengthen their position.

"There is complete ignorance and denial of the peace process and the two-state solution," warned Palestinian analyst Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Passia think tank.

"Nobody is talking about the Palestinians."

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said: "The absence of peace and the Palestinian question in the Israeli electoral discourse points to an inability to confront reality."

Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday, when they are expected to vote in a government which polls indicate could be even more right-wing than the outgoing administration.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud, which is running on a joint list with the hardline nationalist Yisrael Beitenu of Avigdor Lieberman, a settler and former foreign minister, is projected to win most seats.

Gloomy view

And polls show the third biggest party - and probably Netanyahu's biggest coalition partner - will be the hardline religious nationalist Jewish Home, whose leader has pledged to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.

"We're expecting a change for the worse and an increase in Israeli extremism, especially as Netanyahu is now allied with the extremists, and that doesn't bode well," Ashrawi said.

The view from the Gaza Strip was equally gloomy.

"This Israeli election is a race to shed Palestinian blood, increase settlement activity and expel Palestinians," said Fawzi Barhum, a spokesperson for Gaza's ruling Islamist Hamas movement.

Israel and Hamas engaged in eight days of bloody fighting in November over rocket fire on the Jewish state, which ended with the deaths of 177 Gazans and six Israelis.

Although an Egypt-brokered truce deal has largely been respected, it is only a matter of time before Israel's new government is drawn into a new confrontation with Hamas, experts say.

Encouraging sign

With the general election just days away, many believe the only answer is to strengthen the Palestinians' standing internationally and work towards overcoming the bitter rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

"There must be a new, strong and unified Palestinian position in the framework of a national unity programme to confront this Israeli challenge and to protect our people, our land and our holy places," Barhum said.

Implementation of a stalled reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas showed encouraging signs last month.

Passia's Abdul Hadi warned said that any progress would be in "slow motion" although integrating Hamas into the Palestinian political system "would be a clear message to Israelis: 'You cannot have your cake and eat it'."

The Palestinians hope the international community will pressure Israel to resume peace talks which have been on hold for more than two years over the issue of settlement construction.

"Palestinians... are hoping that something might come from Brussels or Washington," Abdul Hadi said.

Financial crisis

In the meantime, with their new upgraded UN ranking as a non-member state, the Palestinians have a menu of more than 60 international organisations they could seek to join.

Speculation has centred on the possibility of them looking to join the International Criminal Court where they could challenge Israel on settlement building.

So far, the Palestinians have said they would only exercise that option as a last resort, in extreme cases such as settlement construction in the E1 area near Jerusalem which could potentially cut the West Bank in half.

A more immediate concern is a financial crisis faced by the Palestinian Authority, which has been unable to pay its employees after Israel withheld tax and tariff revenues as a punishment for the UN move.

"Maintenance - survival of the PA, financially and politically - both in house and in the region" will be high on the Palestinian agenda whoever comes to power in Israel on January 22, Abdul Hadi said.



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