Faisal Al Rfouh
The Jordan Times
February 18, 2009 - 1:00am

The swing to the right in the recently held elections in Israel is likely to have an impact on the Middle East peace process in general and Israel-Palestine relations in particular.

The past four elections were won by candidates who promised to end Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, but in the February 10, 2009, elections, some candidates promised to “wage war”.

The gain of the right-wing parties is a cause of concern for the Arab world and the Palestinians.

Due to the convoluted nature of Israeli politics, the prospects of Likud Party Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu becoming prime minister, at the head of a right-wing coalition reluctant to pursue the two-state solution to the conflict, could send warning signals in the Arab world.

The resurgence of the right-wing parties in Israel has dismayed the Palestinians. Summing up the Palestinian mood, Saeb Erekat, senior Palestinian negotiator, said on February 10: “The outcome of the Israeli elections indicates there won’t be in Israel a government capable of doing what is needed to achieve peace. It’s obvious the Israelis have voted to paralyse the peace process.”

Kadima won 28 seats in the 120-member assembly, followed closely by Likud, with 27; the next prime minister will have to form a coalition of 61 seats, making Avigdor Lieberman - head of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu Party who came in third with 15 seats - a potential kingmaker. Both Lieberman and Netanyahu are hardliners.

Lieberman has vowed to take a hard line against the Hamas movement ruling Gaza, and has been called a fascist and a racist by critics for his extreme rhetoric about Israel’s Arab minority. Netanyahu has reportedly said recently: “There will be no escape from toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza. I’m sorry to say we haven’t gotten the job done. The next government will have no choice but to finish the job and uproot Hamas.”

Reacting to exit polls, Fawzi Barhum, a Hamas spokesman, said that the Israelis voted for extremists. He added: “These results confirm that the Israeli public has voted for the most bellicose candidates, those who are the most extremist in their rhetoric. The arrival of the Livni-Netanyahu-Lieberman trio confirms that the terrorist culture dominates Israeli voters.”

The temporary lull in hostilities in Gaza, with Israel and Hamas declaring ceasefires, and the efforts at mediating a more permanent truce, particularly by Egypt, could prove more daunting with a right-wing Israeli government.

The recent Gaza war left bitter memories for the Gazans who may not find any solace from this election. Gazan sentiments were, however, expressed by one resident before election: “We don’t care who wins the election. Our way is the resistance and we have only two choices - either victory or martyrdom.”

The writer, former minister of culture, professor and chairman of the Political Science Department, University of Jordan, is president of the Orient Centre for Studies and Cultural Dialogue. alrfouh@hotmail.com. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.


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