Jan 29 2013
By Daoud Kuttab
The ambiguous results of the Israeli elections have left Palestinians with an attitude best embodied by the novel of the late Palestinian novelist Emile Habibi, a pessoptimist. Palestinians were dumbfounded by the unanticipated and unclear results, which have left them torn between feelings of optimism and pessimism.
There were plenty of reasons to be pessimistic, which is why expectations were low that the results would actually effect any sort of real change.
Palestinians were generally pessimistic about the elections results because those who opposed the Benjamin Netanyahu government did so based on economic or social issues rather than his hawkish positions on the peace process. None of the major parties participating in the elections presented what seemed to be a clear alternative to the current government’s position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Palestinians were further worried by the appearance of a right-wing, even radical settler tilt in the polls leading up to the elections. The merger of the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu parties as well as expectations for high voter turnout by the new radical settler party led by Naftali Bennett added to Palestinian pessimism.
It seems, however, that Palestinians’ low expectations were in fact a blessing in disguise, because in the end, it did not take much for them to see positive aspects in certain of the results. While there was no clear winner, the results appear to indicate hesitation among Israelis about the hardline, anti-peace and anti-Obama politics that the Netanyahu government has adopted during the past two years.
Members of Netanyahu’s Likud Party may have lost some seats, and the overall retraction among parties allied with Netanyahu should be seen positively by Palestinians, but the right wing losses are not clear enough. The Likud-Beiteinu merger means that Netanyahu can claim to head the largest single party even if he does not have a clear path to the 61 out of 120 seats needed to secure a simple majority in the Knesset. Having the largest number of seats in a parliamentary system does not guarantee a majority government. The Knesset, up until Tuesday’s elections, included the Kadima Party, which held the majority of seats (28) but was unable to create a government.
The weak results for Netanyahu could affect Tel Aviv’s attitude toward Washington. Before election day, Netanyahu had snubbed the U.S. president on more than one occasion. During the 2012 presidential campaign, he clearly supported Obama’s opponent, the Republican Mitt Romney, and had rejected the counsel of Israel’s most important ally. A Jeff Goldberg article published in Bloomberg cited a private statement made by Obama expressing his frustration with the Israeli leadership. Yet, instead of taking this criticism with humility, the prime minister reacted with arrogance, saying that Israelis were capable, on their own, of determining what is in their best interest. Netanyahu’s loss of seats is seen as the Israeli public’s response to such arrogance, highlighting in particular that Israelis continue to want the counsel of their allies in Washington.
Overall, the average Palestinian is most likely smiling about the election results. It is difficult to determine whether they are happy, excited or even optimistic, but they are certainly smiling at the figurative slap in the face that the Israeli public has given Netanyahu.
Palestinian leaders, of course, have reacted officially with reservation. As always, they insist that they do not wish to interfere in the political process in Israel while at the same time continuing to reiterate their wish to see an Israeli government emerge that genuinely believes in a two-state solution and is willing to stop the continued theft of Palestinian lands intended for the free state of Palestine
On the record, Saeb Erekat, a leading negotiator and member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, predicted that the character of the Israeli government would not change dramatically. The Palestinians, he said, were waiting for a new government that wants peace and is prepared to start negotiations to remove settlements, release Palestinian prisoners and implement a two-state solution.
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