ABED RABBO, GAZA STRIP // Hafsa Abed Rabbo and her sister-in-law, Khitma Abed Rabbo, both 23, had just finished lunch, sharing bread, labaneh and vegetables, with Hafsa's three daughters. It was an ordinary enough scene, except that one of the few remaining ceilings of the family home hangs down at a perilous 45-degree angle, the room in which they were eating is the only room that still has four walls and everything is rubble in this shell of what must have once been a handsome house.
The home - the entire neighbourhood, actually - was destroyed by Israeli troops in the recent offensive in the Gaza Strip. Homeless and forced to rely on charity for food, the residents of this devastated area, most of whom support Fatah, have had little time for Israeli elections. "We don't have electricity," Hafsa said. "So we can't follow the news. I don't know who will win [the Israeli elections]. But I know that they are all our enemies."
Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, "was supposed to be moderate, but this" - Hafsa gestured at the ruins - "all happened with her". Indeed, in the Strip, where one might have thought Israeli elections would have been of critical importance, the campaign has hardly registered on people's list of concerns. In part, this is because the average Gazan's list of concerns is filled with much more crucial items, such as finding food or shelter. In part, it is because of the widespread sense that there is little difference between Left and Right in Israel.
"Essentially, the whole Israeli political spectrum clings to three Nos," said Mkhaimar Abusada, a Gaza-based political analyst. "No to a return to the 1967 borders, no to a right of return of Palestinian refugees and no to a division of Jerusalem. Between them, the difference is percentages." Nevertheless, Mr Abusada said, the Israeli elections should be a cause for concern. "A right-wing coalition will be a serious blow to moderates on the Palestinian side and hence to the peace process. It will vindicate Hamas's claim that there is no Israeli partner for negotiation and that resistance is the only viable strategy."
Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, has publicly stated it has no preference for who wins Israeli elections. "The general Israeli policy has been the same since 1994," said Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas official. "There has been no progress in peace talks and I don't expect there to be any significant change in Israeli policy regarding the Palestinians with these elections." Mr Hamad also said from the perspective of a possible Gaza ceasefire agreement it matters little who is in charge in Israel. The ceasefire, he said, is not connected to Benjamin Netanyahu, head of Likud, a right-wing party, and the current frontrunner or any other Israeli politician. "This is a military decision. Maybe a Netanyahu government will try to set stricter conditions, but I don't think there will be a fundamental change because it is in the hands of the military, which doesn't want rocket fire or another military confrontation."
Mr Hamad said substantial change in Palestinian-Israeli relations can only come about if Palestinians put their own house in order and change the current "miserable" split between Hamas and Fatah. That view was echoed by Sahil Abed Rabbo, Hafsa's husband. A former official in the Fatah-led National Security Forces, Mr Abed Rabbo, said he hoped Palestinian factions could agree to unite. "What happened in Gaza had nothing to do with Fatah or Hamas. Before Hamas, Israel still invaded. Israeli leaders are all war criminals. All we can do is unite. Only then will there be hope."
Among the men queuing for UNRWA food parcels in the temporary distribution centre set up amid the rubble of Abed Rabbo, there was little hope of positive change and much anger. The men here used to feed their own families and all were indignant at having to rely on charity. "We were farmers," said Ahmad Abdullah. "We grew our own vegetables to sell in the market and eat ourselves. But Israel destroyed all that [in the recent offensive]. The elections will make no difference to us because all Israel's leaders are terrorists."
There was a general murmur of agreement. "The one who says he will kill the most Palestinians will win the Israeli elections," said Akram Abed Rabbo, 33. "There's no change." firstname.lastname@example.org