The election results in Israel are already making things difficult for the Palestinian leadership. The relative failure of Benjamin Netanyahu and the portrayal of Yesh Atid’s success as an accomplishment for the center-left immediately encouraged Europe and the United States to ask the Palestinians to come back to the negotiating table with Israel. Palestinian Liberation Organization officials expect this pressure to increase from Europe, whose official opposition to Israel’s settlement enterprise is more vocal than that of the U.S. PLO and Palestinian Authority officials know that the West is ready and willing to put pressure on them using diplomatic carrots-and-sticks even while, official condemnations aside, it does not pressure Israel to stop building in the territories, including in East Jerusalem – the basic Palestinian condition for returning to negotiations.
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In addition to pressure from the West, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and chairman of the PLO, is under pan-Palestinian social pressure not to give in to the West’s demands by returning to negotiations. According to a PLO official, Abbas has stuck to his decision not to return to the talks in their old form in which the parties meet, Israel builds and expropriates land and the Palestinians condemn the action. Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said that the Palestinians were willing to return to the talks with any Israeli government that acted according to the outline of the UN resolution regarding a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. A PLO official told Haaretz, “We’re not saying we won’t go back to negotiations. In the end, we’re good Muslims and Christians and believe in miracles, and maybe Netanyahu will change.”
Osama Hamdan, the head of Hamas’s foreign relations department who is visiting Gaza, accurately described the general feeling when he said in a public debate in Gaza that Abbas must reexamine the entire path of the negotiations. According to a report published in Falastin, the newspaper identified with Hamas, Hamdan said that Netanyahu’s return to the premiership was not good news. He asked that Abbas “reexamine, at the national and general level and with fairness, together with politicians, experts and the various Palestinian political movements, the path of compromise with the Israeli enemy, which has continued for close to twenty years.” He said further that the Palestinians must examine the defects in that path very well and recognize the reasons why it has not obtained what the Palestinians expected of it.
On a personal level, high-ranking officials of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO are pleased with the blow Netanyahu took. But to the Western diplomats who see the elections as a victory for Israel’s center-left, PLO representatives say that while Yesh Atid may be a centrist party in Israel, for the Palestinians it is a right-wing party in every way since it supports keeping the settlements in place and sees East Jerusalem as part of Israel’s capital. “It’s enough that Yair Lapid refused in advance to be part of a bloc with the Arab parties,” a PLO official told Haaretz.
It seems that because of the expectation that nothing would change, the Israeli elections campaign and the elections themselves aroused little interest in Palestinian society. According to Ghassan Khatib, a professor in Bir Zeit University’s Communications Department and the former Government Information Center chief in Salam Fayyad’s government, “These Israeli elections aroused the least amount of interest among us since the 1990s.” The Palestinian public is preoccupied mainly with the non-payment of salaries in November and December, partial and general strikes held by the public sector and fluctuations in the intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks.
As the Palestinians assumed, Khatib says, “The election results prove that as far as the Palestinians are concerned, nothing will change.” He continues, “I don’t believe in miracles. If the international community, with Barack Obama at its head, gives Netanyahu a free hand once again, there will be two casualties. One will be the two-state solution: Netanyahu’s policy will close the window to it completely. The second casualty will be the current moderate Palestinian leadership. This leadership is connected to the peace process and to the two-state solution. A weakening of the process and disintegration of the vision will necessarily lead to a weakening of the leadership until it reaches its natural end, because the policy it supported did not prove itself as a policy that worked.”