In Gaza, Palestinians react to Israeli elections

After the devastating attacks on Gaza, Palestinians in the besieged territory remain skeptical that a new Israeli leader will mean much difference for them. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

As Israelis voted on Tuesday for a new government, Palestinian residents in the Gaza Strip continue to rebuild from the three-week long attack on their territory which killed at least 1,350 people, including more than 400 children, and injured more than 5,500.

While many commentators say that the results of the Israeli elections matter to the prospects for peace, Palestinians voiced less optimistic views in bomb-ravaged Gaza.

In the relatively calm streets of Gaza City, Nabil Hejazi, 42, hoped the election might make a positive difference, yet he seemed pessimistic toward any improvement of life conditions across Gaza. “I pray to God that these elections turn out to be good, but the Israeli actions and policies toward us are the same, whichever party wins. They only plan for the sake of their own interests”.

The war on Gaza was initiated by three key Israeli leaders; the outgoing prime minister, Ehud Olmert; foreign minister Tzipi Livni who took over the leadership of Kadima; and defense minister and Labor party leader Ehud Barak. Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister, and leader of the main opposition Likud party is now competing with Livni to become the next prime minister as coalition talks begin. Kadima took 28 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, with Likud in second place at 27. Each is now racing to find enough support among minor parties to form a government with a 61 seat majority.

A main campaign theme for the party leaders was undermining or destroying the ruling Hamas party in Gaza — thus all gave their full support for the attack which exacted such a heavy price from Palestinian civilians.

Hamas and other resistance factions are still holding up and remain capable of firing homemade rockets into Israel as Israel continues to blockade and bombard the Gaza Strip. Israeli society has moved ever more to the right — evidence for that is provided by the success of Yisrael Beitenu, headed by Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman, whose party came in third with 15 seats, has called for leveling Gaza, home to 1.5 million Palestinians — mostly refugees — to the ground. Right after the preliminary results appeared on Israeli media outlets, Lieberman stated that the first task of a new government will be toppling Hamas in Gaza.

Gaza university student Eman Atta, considered the prospects that outgoing foreign minister Livni may become prime minister. “Tzipi Livni helped destroy the Palestinian people with the latest war on Gaza,” she said. “The Israeli election results are unfair toward the Palestinian people.”

Jamalat, Eman’s colleague, had a similar reaction: “When this lady [Livni] was in power, she allowed Palestinians to suffer greatly. The path of violence, which Livni began will continue if Livni will be at the top of the government in Israel.”

Nasser Aqel, a government employee, is one of many who sees little difference among Israeli parties: “Any Israeli party that assumes power does not mean any good for the Palestinians.”

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said in reaction to Lieberman’s comments that “these results confirm the increase of extremism against the Palestinians. It seems that fundamentalism is ascending in Israel. Our message to any new Israeli government is that such a government must respect the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, otherwise all options are open.” Barhoum also sent another message to the Arab world demanding clear-cut support by Arab countries for the Palestinian people in the face of what he called “enhanced Israeli extremism.”

Amer Ibrahim, a Gaza-based analyst of Israeli affairs, believed that the new Israeli government will consider international perspectives regarding the region and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “The hardliners’ presence does not mean that new Israeli wars are likely in the region,” he said. “Such parties are relatively small and they are not mainly interested in political agendas; they are rather concerned about some internal gains at the economic and social levels.”

Ibrahim maintained that any new government might need at least a year to consider all options and formulate its positions. “I believe that an Israeli government that has a fascist agenda cannot proceed or convince the international community of such an agenda, especially after Israel has just carried out a war on Gaza.”

Rami Almeghari is contributor to The Electronic Intifada, and Free Speech Radio News and is a part-time lecturer on media and political translation at the Islamic University of Gaza. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor-in-chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari A T hotmail D O T com.