Hamas: Zionist Voters Have Elected a 'Troika of Terrorism'

Abbas conditions restarting peace talks settlement freeze; Hamas: Zionist have elected a 'troika of terrorism.'

The tight results of Israel's general elections on Tuesday set the stage for what could be weeks of coalition negotiations, after Kadima and Likud emerged nearly neck-to-neck with 29 and 28 seats respectively.

Although Tzipi Livni's Kadima party won more seats, a strong-right-wing bloc led by Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu - which came in third with 15 seats - could nevertheless take over the coalition.

Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum called the election results a demonstration of Israeli support for an extremist government led by a "troika of terrorism."

"This shows that the Zionist voters clearly start choosing the one who is most extreme in his speech, the one who wants war with the Palestinians," Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas official, told Al-Jazeera.

"This troika, this trio of terrorism of Lieberman, Livni and Netanyahu chose the dramatic development in Israeli society towards terror."

Speaking from Beirut, Osama Hamdan, another senior Hamas official, said "both sides are working against Hamas, against the Palestinians", but Netanyahu and the right-wing was doing it in a way "that cannot be defended."

He said that Livni was doing it in a "very soft way so it can be defended by the West and the United States".

A right-wing Israeli government could dampen prospects for Egyptian-led attempts to broker a truce between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers after Israel's devastating offensive in Gaza last month.

It is also likely to delay the possibility of a lasting settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

President Mahmoud Abbas said that however far-right the Israeli government were to go, pragmatism would trump ideology.

"The ascent of the Israeli right does not worry us," he told Italy's La Repubblica newspaper. "In whatever form, the government, once in power, will ultimately end up with responsibility, pragmatism prevailing."

Saeb Erekat, a top negotiator for the PA, told Al-Jazeera that there was little chance of a peace deal with a government comprising the parties elected on Tuesday.

"Any form of government as a result of these elections will not accept the two state solution, they will not accept the agreements signed, they will continue with the settlements activities and the incursions and the attacks," Erekat said.

"I think we will conside them an un-partner," he said.

It is up to President Shimon Peres to decide whether Livni or Netanyahu should have the first shot at forming a government. Peres will meet with party leaders to hear their recommendations, and then has a week to make up his mind.

During Netanyahu's three-year term as prime minister a decade ago, he largely froze the interim peace deals his predecessors negotiated with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has derided the past year of peace talks under Kadima as a waste of time, and said he wants to focus on reviving the Palestinian economy. He has also called to crush Hamas, the Islamic militant movement that seized the Gaza Strip by force in June 2007, and remove it from power.

Livni has said she would continue peace talks with moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah movement rules in the West Bank. But she also advocates a tough line against Hamas and was one of the architects of Israel's three-week Gaza war, which ended with a temporary cease-fire on January 18.

Abbas will restart talks only if Israel commits to a settlement freeze, his aides said Tuesday, posing such a condition for the first time.

"We now have clear conditions for whoever heads the Israeli government," said Rafiq Husseini, an Abbas adviser. The conditions begin with the halt of settlement activities immediately.

Netanyahu wants to expand settlements, and even under the outgoing Kadima-led government, in which Livni served as chief negotiator, construction accelerated.

The Palestinians want all of the West Bank for a future state, along with Gaza and East Jerusalem. They say the West Bank settlements, home to nearly 300,000 Jews, will make that impossible.

It was not immediately clear whether the prospect of weeks of political paralysis would lessen chances for a long-term Gaza truce and a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas.

Under the proposed exchange, Israel would free hundreds of Palestinians prisoners for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been in Palestinian captivity since he was abducted by Hamas-allied militants in a June 2006 cross-border raid.

A Hamas official said Tuesday that he doubted that under Likud, the group would be able to reach a long-term truce deal with Israel, currently being brokered by Egypt.

"If the right-wing Likud party wins, I don't think that the current government will be able to reach an agreement regarding a long-term truce in Gaza. If the current government wins, they could reach an agreement," he said.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, freed from concerns about political fallout, could approve a deal before the new government is sworn in. A swap is linked to efforts to reach a permanent truce on the Gaza-Israel border. Hamas wants Israel and Egypt to lift their blockade of Gaza, while Israel wants a halt to arms smuggling into Gaza.