Whatever coalition emerges from this week’s election, the new government’s tenure promises to be a bleak period with scant progress towards a negotiated solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to analysts on both sides of the divide.
The election is part of a process under way since the breakdown of the Camp David talks in 2000 in which hard-liners on both sides are fuelling each other. The intifada brought Ariel Sharon to power, while Sharon’s policies contributed to the victory of Hamas in the January 2006 Palestinian elections.
The shift to the right embodied in the election results reflects the assessment of many Israelis that peace with the Palestinians is impossible for now; that a perceived concession in withdrawal from Gaza blew up in Israel’s face; that there is no partner between a Hamas that wants to see Israel destroyed and a hapless President Mahmoud Abbas, who cannot deliver the backing of his people; and that the firing of rockets means there is little to talk about and overwhelming force is the right response.
Land for peace, the cornerstone of Middle East diplomacy since 1967, received a stinging setback on Tuesday. The shrinking of Meretz, advocacating compromise and diplomacy, and the growth of Yisrael Beiteinu, espousing an iron fist, points up the change.
The problems on the Palestinian side, foremost among them the Hamas-Fatah infighting, were already daunting for anyone — including the new Obama administration — hoping to resuscitate peace diplomacy. The elections have highlighted the difficulties on the Israeli side.
“This election ensures that there cannot be in power an Israeli government capable of seriously negotiating with the Palestinians,” says Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies. A Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu government will not want to. And if Tzipi Livni joins with Netanyahu, he can be expected to block her from doing so.
Arguing that it was time to put a stop to dangerous concessions, Netanayahu put the brakes on the Oslo peace process during his first tenure from 1996 to 1999 and he has now made clear he intends to replace talks on Palestinian statehood with a focus on West Bank economic development.
The main casualty of this will be Abbas who will no longer be able to maintain even the illusion that there is a peace process, something on which he has staked all of his credibility. His presidential term expired last month while his critically ill political agenda has now expired with the election.
Hamas and regional hard-liners are already saying ‘we told you so’.
“There is a radicalisation process on two sides, with one reinforcing the other,” says Ghassan Khatib, former Palestinian Authority labour minister. “The results of the election would confirm the argument Hamas is putting forward that Israel is not interested in negotiations, that it is interested in fighting and that force is the only language the Israelis understand."