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As Israel’s far-right parties celebrate, Palestinians shrug

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The apparent return of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the dramatic rise of his far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies in Israel’s general election this week elicited little more than shrugs from the from many Palestinians.

‘I don’t care,’ Said Issawiy, a nectarine vendor in Ramallah’s main al-Manara Square, says of Netanyahu replacing centrist Yair Lapid and set to lead the most right-wing government in history of Israel.

Over the past month, Issawiy had struggled to get to work in Ramallah from his home in the city of Nablus after the Israeli army blocked several roads in response to a wave of violence in the northern West Bank. “I’m just trying to eat and work and bring something back to my kids,” he said.

Some see the likely victory of Netanyahu and his openly anti-Palestinian allies, including ultranationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir who wants to end Palestinian autonomy in parts of the occupied West Bank, as another blow to the Palestinian national project. .

The sharp shift to the right by the Israeli political establishment pushes long-dormant peace talks even further and compounds the challenges facing 87-year-old President Mahmoud Abbas, whose autocratic Palestinian Authority already appeared to many Palestinians as little more than an arm of the Israeli security forces.

“If you want to use the metaphor of a ‘nail in the coffin of the Palestinian Authority’, it was done earlier,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian peace negotiator and cabinet minister. “This election is another step in the same direction.”

In his 12 years in power, before being elected in 2021, Netanyahu showed little interest in engaging with the Palestinians. Under his leadership, Israel greatly expanded its settler population in the West Bank – today some 500,000 – and retroactively legalized settler outposts built on private Palestinian land. The measures have entrenched the Israeli occupation, which is now in its 56th year since Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Middle East war.

Palestinians see successive Israeli governments as seeking to consolidate a grim status quo in the West Bank: Palestinian enclaves divided by growing Israeli settlements and surrounded by Israeli forces.

“We had no illusions that this next government would be a partner for peace,” Palestinian Authority Minister Ahmad Majdalani said. “It’s the opposite, we are witnessing a campaign of incitement that began more than 15 years ago as Israel drifted towards extremism.”

Militant Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip said the election result “would not change the nature of the conflict”.

But for the first time, growing support for Israel’s far-right has made Ben-Gvir’s Jewish supremacist party the third-largest in Israel’s parliament.

Ben-Gvir and his allies hope to grant immunity to Israeli soldiers who shoot Palestinians, deport rival lawmakers and impose the death penalty on Palestinians convicted of attacks on Jews. Ben-Gvir is the disciple of a racist rabbi, Meir Kahane, who was banned from parliament and whose Kach party was branded a terrorist group by the United States before he was assassinated in New York in 1990.

During the election campaign, Ben-Gvir has made headlines for his anti-Palestinian speeches and stunts – recently brandishing a shotgun and encouraging police to open fire on Palestinian stone-throwers in a strained neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Some Palestinians found reason to be optimistic. After Tuesday’s election, they say, Israel will no longer present the telegenic face of Lapid to the world. A victory for extremism in Israel, some say, could strengthen the moral case for efforts to isolate Israel, justifying activism outside the moribund peace process.

“It will lead to some international pressure,” said Mahmoud Nawajaa, an activist with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement, which calls for an economic boycott of Israel as happened in South Africa in the United States. apartheid era in the 1980s.

“Netanyahu is more honest and clear about his intentions to expand settlements. The others didn’t say it even if it happened,” Nawajaa added.

Lapid and his predecessor, Naftali Bennett, a former settler leader who rebranded himself as a national unifier, had presided over a wobbly coalition of right-wing, centrist and accommodating left parties, including the first Arab party to ever join a government.

Foreign leaders who shunned divisive Netanyahu embraced what appeared to be a less ideological government. Bennett became the first Israeli leader to visit the United Arab Emirates after relations between the countries normalized – an honor repeatedly denied to Netanyahu. President Joe Biden, who had a difficult relationship with Netanyahu, enjoyed Lapid’s warm welcome during his visit to Israel last summer.

But even as Lapid voiced his support for the two-state solution during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Palestinians saw no signs that he could walk the talk. They have seen Israel approve thousands of new settler homes on the land they want for a future state.

Israeli military raids in the West Bank have also increased after a series of Palestinian attacks in the spring killed 19 people in Israel. More than 130 Palestinians have been killed, making 2022 the deadliest since the UN began tracking deaths in 2005. The Israeli military says most of the Palestinians killed were militants. But young stone throwers protesting the incursions and others not involved in the clashes were also killed.

“In terms of violence, the Lapid government has outdone itself,” said Nour Odeh, a Palestinian political analyst and former PA spokesperson. “When it comes to new settlements and de facto annexation, Lapid is Netanyahu.”

Many young Palestinians have given up on the two-state solution and have become disillusioned with the aging Palestinian leadership, which they see as a vehicle for corruption and collaboration with Israel. Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinian party that controls the West Bank, have remained bitterly divided for 15 years.

Just 37% of Palestinians support the two-state solution, according to the latest report by Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki. In Israel, the numbers are about the same – 32% of Jewish Israelis support the idea, according to the Israel Democracy Institute.

“There is no horizon for a political track with the Israelis,” Odeh said. “We must look within…to re-legitimize our institutions through elections and unite on a united political platform.”

But in the crowded and chaotic streets of Ramallah on Wednesday, there was only misery and anger at the daily humiliations of the occupation.

“I hate this place,” said Lynn Anwar Hafi, a 19-year-old majoring in literature at a local university. “It’s like the occupation lives inside me. I can’t think what I want. I can’t go where I want, I won’t be free until I leave.

ABC News

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