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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 April 2019

What Palestinians think of Israel's upcoming election

'The whole thing is hopeless,' said one West Bank resident as Israel heads to the polls on Tuesday

Palestinians say they do not hold out hope for change whoever wins, be it Benny Gantz, centre, a former Israeli army chief of staff, or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. EPA
Palestinians say they do not hold out hope for change whoever wins, be it Benny Gantz, centre, a former Israeli army chief of staff, or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. EPA

As Israelis get ready to go to the polls on Tuesday in the toughest election in years, Palestinians say they see little hope for peace, no matter the outcome.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will run for his fifth term in office against former military chief Benny Gantz and could become the country’s longest-serving prime minister if he wins.

But in recent weeks, tensions flared between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, and the revival of the moribund peace process has not featured prominently in electoral debate.

Almost a fifth of those eligible to vote on Tuesday are Palestinian-Israelis and although they are being urged to take part, many said they will boycott the election.

“For Palestinians, whether they are citizens of Israel or living under Israeli military rule in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, these elections are the equivalent of a choice between President Donald Trump and President Donald Trump,” Diana Buttu, a former adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told The National.

“Neither Mr Netanyahu and his coalition with the far-right Jewish Power party, which has openly advocated the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, nor Mr Gantz, who boasted of bombing Gaza ‘back to the Stone Ages,’ support a two-state solution or equality for Palestinians in a single state,” she said.

“Whether Mr Netanyahu or Mr Gantz wins, this election will likely result in an even more extreme right-wing government than the last one, which was the most right-wing in Israel's history. It is an outcome that does not bode well for Palestinians.”

Mr Netanyahu, who assumed office in early 2009 and has served as prime minister ever since, is facing tough competition from Mr Gantz, a former chief of staff for the Israeli military who is a newcomer to politics.

Mr Gantz is running for the Blue and White Party, or Kahol Lavan – a political alliance formed in February with the hope of defeating Likud, Israel's biggest party.

According to a poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, just over half of the Palestinians from the occupied territories who were surveyed said they expected Mr Netanyahu to win the election and three quarters said that even if Mr Gantz did win, conditions for Palestinians will either stay the same or become worse.

“The Israeli elections confirm to the Palestinians that there is no hope, no matter who wins,” Palestinian activist Ahmed Al Masri said.

“Nobody has talked – during the election campaigns – about ending the occupation or about coexistence with Palestinians. Anybody who dares to talk about these issues is automatically cast out and can kiss their political career goodbye," he said.

“Instead, it seems as though political gain in the Israeli elections can only be achieved through promises of further oppression of the Palestinians, further discrimination, and the further expansion of Israeli colonialism.”

Members of Mr Netanyahu’s governing coalition openly oppose the creation of a Palestinian state and want to annex much of the occupied West Bank, while Mr Gantz's alliance also calls for continued control over the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.

The international “two-state solution" formula for peace is only supported by 34 per cent of Israelis, according to a recent poll by Haaretz.

Ali Ghneim, a resident of Ramallah in the West Bank, says that given the current far-right trend in Israel’s political landscape, it is “beyond impossible” that the coalition that wins the election will be interested in peace.

“Even Mr Gantz, whose first campaign advert bragged about the murder of a thousand Palestinians and who is in favour of maintaining the occupation, will find it difficult to form a coalition if he wins the elections. He is a moderate by current standards,” Mr Ghneim said.

“The whole thing is hopeless.”

It is believed that President Abbas would prefer to see anybody but Mr Netanyahu win at the polls on Tuesday. According to local media sources, he would like to see the Blue and White alliance win, which could be because Mr Netanyahu has chosen to be tough with Mr Abbas over the past few years and more lenient on Hamas.

A Tel Aviv election billboard shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has dominated the country's politics for the better part of three decades. AP 
A Tel Aviv election billboard shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has dominated the country's politics for the better part of three decades. AP 

Hamas, on the other hand, would prefer Mr Netanyahu to remain in office, according to local media. The movement sees him as the most likely Israeli politician to continue to negotiate with them and the only one who is hesitant to launch a large-scale military operation in Gaza.

“Despite differences between Israeli politicians, there is a consensus on not ending the occupation. They believe in annexing east Jerusalem, the major settlement blocs and the area west of the Jordan River. This constitutes around 50 per cent of the land that belonged to Palestine in 1967,” said Palestinian political analyst Mohammed Qassem.

“Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz believe that Israel should extend its sovereignty over those areas. Literally nobody in the mainstream believes in two states for two people in accordance with the 1967 lines and international resolutions.”

And as US President Donald Trump is expected to publish his plan to solve Israel's long-standing conflict with the Palestinians soon after the election, few believe that things will improve.

“Israeli elections come and go, but nothing changes – the settlements, the army’s brutality and the humiliation of Palestinians continues,” said Ahmed Abu Sneinah, 53, from Hebron.

Updated: April 8, 2019 02:50 PM

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