Gantz? Gabbay? Lapid? Netanyahu? Palestinians could care less.
Palestinian Authority officials and Palestinian political analysts say that the absence of the Palestinian issue from the election campaign is the main reason behind the indifference among the Palestinians. While in the past Palestinians used to comment on Israeli elections by saying that they do not see a difference between the Right and Left in Israel, the general feeling on the Palestinian street these days is that the April 9 election won’t change anything for them.
“The major parties are even avoiding any talk about the peace process,” noted Hisham Abdel Qader, a lawyer and political analyst from Nablus. “Why should Palestinians care about the elections in Israel when none of the leading candidates are saying anything important and clear about the future of the peace process?”
Palestinians don’t believe that the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will change as a result of the upcoming election, and that’s why they are not paying much attention to the election campaign, Abdel Qader said. “Besides, Palestinians don’t see a difference between Benny Gantz, Avi Gabbay, Yair Lapid and Benjamin Netanyahu,” he added.
Political analyst Hani Habib said that the issue of the peace process has in fact been absent from the agenda of the past four election campaigns in Israel.
“The parties’ platforms have been focusing on the Jewish identity of Israel, as well as economic, social and security problems, especially with regards to Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and the Gaza Strip,” he wrote in the PA’s official daily Al-Ayyam.
However, Habib said he believes that the peace process will make a comeback when and if a “government of generals” is formed after the election. The “generals” he is referring to are Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon and Gaby Ashkenazi.
“The peace process will be at the center of the attention of the generals’ government, if it wins the election,” Habib said. Even if the generals lose and sit in the opposition, the peace process will be on the agenda of their political work.”
The analyst claimed that the “former senior army and security officials” of the Blue and White Party have endorsed the idea of separation from the Palestinians “to avert the dangers of a one-state solution.”
Nabil Amr, a former PA minister and founder of another official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, sounded less optimistic about the prospects of peace.
“During this Israeli election campaign, none of the candidates has dared to mention the sentence ‘peace with the Palestinians,’” he said.” In fact, this has been the case since the signing of the Oslo Accords.
Amr believes that any Israeli politician or candidate who dares to talk about peace with the Palestinians would be committing “political suicide.” In his view, former prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert paid a heavy price because of their roles in the peace process. The most recent “victim,” he noted, is Tzipi Livni, who withdrew from the race after voter polls showed that her Hatnua Party would barely be able to cross the electoral threshold.
“I would not be exaggerating if I said that anyone who presents a nonbelligerent program regarding the Palestinians would be committing suicide,” Amr said. “Those who are willing to take the risk will vanish.”
Amr and several other Palestinian officials and political analysts are convinced that the problem is no longer Netanyahu himself, but the “growing shift to the Right and extremism” among Israelis.
“Since 2000, the Right in Israel has been growing,” said former security prisoner Fuad Ibrahim, who describes himself as an expert on Israeli affairs. “I believe that the Second Intifada changed the political scene in Israel in favor of the right-wing parties and Jewish settlers. The Left and the peace camp in Israel lost much of their credibility, especially after the suicide bombings.”
It is very hard to sell to the Israeli public any plan about peace with the Palestinians, Ibrahim claimed. “The Netanyahu government has succeeded in persuading the Israeli public that there is no partner on the Palestinian side for any peace agreement,” he added.
“Even most of the candidates running in the election are afraid to talk about the peace process. They know that the Israeli public won’t buy anything they tell them about peace with the Palestinians. On the other hand, we see that candidates who talk tough with regards to the Palestinians and boast of how many Arabs they have killed during their army service are attracting more voters.”
PA PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas and his senior advisers in Ramallah are careful not to say anything that could be used by any of the candidates or parties running in the Israeli election. They are aware that many Israelis are watching and following every single statement coming out of the Mukata presidential compound.
Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, was recently quoted as saying that the Palestinians were “encouraged” by Gantz’s remarks to Yediot Aharonot that he opposes controlling another people and that Israel could learn from the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
“It’s encouraging, if he succeeds and he sticks to this opinion,” Abu Rudaineh told Reuters.
The Palestinian spokesman’s comment has since been used by Gantz’s political rivals to show that the Palestinians are eager to see him replace Netanyahu.
The PA leadership was quick to clarify that Abu Rudaineh’s remarks do not mean that the Palestinians support any of the candidates.
“Our position is clear,” said a senior aide to Abbas. “The elections are an internal Israeli issue. We don’t meddle in the internal affairs of any party.”
This claim, however, is not accurate.
Abbas reportedly managed to convince Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam not to join MK Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al list, after it withdrew from the Joint List, headed by MK Ayman Odeh. Tibi initially sought to run together with Salam, but in a surprise move decided to join forces with Odeh’s Hadash Party. It is not clear at this stage whether Tibi’s decision to run together with Odeh was the result of Abbas’s pressure.
A senior official in the Mukata said this week that he did not rule out the possibility that it was Abbas who convinced Tibi and Odeh to join forces.
“There’s nothing wrong with trying to achieve unity among our Arab citizens in Israel,” the official said. “This should not be seen as an intervention in the election. President Abbas did not write the political platforms of any party. He simply made it clear that it’s in the interest of the Palestinians that the Arabs remain united, because of the serious challenges facing our people inside Israel and in the Palestinian territories.”
THE PALESTINIAN street, meanwhile, does not seem to care much whether Tibi and Odeh run together or separately. The No. 1 issue that seems to worry most Palestinians these days is not whether Netanyahu or Gantz would win the elections. Nor do they seem to care if the left-centrist bloc is strong or weak in the next Knesset. The No 1 issue these days is the salaries of the Palestinian public employees.
This is the issue that almost everyone you meet in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus talks about, especially in the wake of the US administration’s decision to cut financial aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, and the Israeli government’s move to deduct half a billion shekels from tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinians, in response to the PA’s policy of paying salaries to security prisoners and families of “martyrs.”
This concern is also shared by most of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who seem to be worried about the money coming from Qatar and UNRWA more than anything else.
Of course, this does not mean that Palestinians would not like to see Netanyahu defeated. Indeed, they would. This is not because they believe that anyone who replaces him will be able to make significant changes. Rather, it’s simply because they have always despised Netanyahu to a point where his defeat and humiliation would be welcomed by many Palestinians and Arabs as a sweet victory.
Palestinians are angry not only with Netanyahu, but also with their PA and Hamas leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“Palestinians have lost faith in their own leaders,” commented a veteran Palestinian journalist from the Gaza Strip. “Why should they care about who’s in power in Israel? For the first time in many years, the Palestinians feel that they have lost the support of many in the international community, including some influential Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. All that people care about now is the economy. They want jobs; they want salaries; they want to breed their children. They are prepared to work with anyone who helps them improve their living conditions. If Netanyahu or Gantz or anyone else in Israel is willing to help, we will take to the streets and praise them. The situation is so bad that the people are willing to align themselves with the devil. Our leaders and Arab brothers don’t care about us.”