Israeli Election: Hamas and settlers breathe sigh of relief

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The Independent Online
"Hamas is happy about this. And no one else cares." Ossama Naimoneh, 22, unemployed and cynical far beyond his years, gestures down his crowded street in this Israeli-occupied West Bank city.

"You will meet a few people here who support Hamas and who are glad today because they think this will be the end of co-operation between Israel and the Palestinians. The end of the peace process.

"But most people - well, Peres, Netanyahu, they are the same thing for us. Neither of them is ever going to do anything for Hebron, or for the Palestinians."

In Hebron and elsewhere in the West Bank, the news of Binyamin Netanyahu's victory in the Israeli election was met largely with a lack of interest from the people who might be thought to have most to lose.

"There are Israeli settlers living in our town, there is a closure so no one can work, our land is being taken to build more roads for the settlers, and all of this happened under a Labour Government," said Mohammed Abu Samouneh, 28, a labourer. He has not been to his job inside Israel since a tightened closure was placed on the Palestinian territories, following a string of suicide attacks three months ago. "What do we care if there is Labour or Likud? Things never get better here."

His neighbour, Faisal Abu Eyshe, said Mr Netanyahu might be an improvement from a Palestinian perspective.

"Netanyahu tells the truth, we know where we stand with him. He speaks straight, not like Peres, who talks about peace and then keeps building settlements."

Mr Abu Eyshe, also an out-of-work labourer, speculated that a Likud government might ease the closure, because "they understand capitalism, better than the Socialists in Labour, and they know it is better for them if we are working in Israel."

The only people in Hebron who displayed much emotion about the election results were 200 Israeli settlers who live, heavily guarded, in the heart of the town.

"We're ecstatic, because finally it has proven that we are not just 40 families, living here, but we represent all the Jewish people," said Shani Horowitz.

"We were against Rabin, against Peres, against the Oslo peace process, against giving away Hebron, and now, thank God, we have a leader elected by the Jewish vote who will keep this land for the Jews."

It is the implications of this Jewish vote which are significant for Palestinians, the political analyst Ghassan Khatib says.

The apathy with which West Bankers greeted the election result is only to be expected: what can people imagine worse than this closure? How in practical terms could Mr Netanyahu's government be worse for Palestinians than Labour has been?

But Mr Khatib, who was part of the Palestinian delegation to both the Washington and Madrid peace talks, said that the election results have worrying long-term implications for Palestinians.

"The possibility of progress in this peace process in the next four years is much less than over the previous four years," he said.

He noted that Likud may postpone indefinitely the implementation of already delayed parts of the Israeli/PLO peace deal, such as military withdrawal from Hebron. Any compromise on the issue of Jerusalem looks unlikely.

"The worst news for us is not that Netanyahu won and Peres lost. It's that the results show a political shift in Jewish Israel to the right, to the extreme right, to hard-line politics. It shows Israel is a country of people who want to have their cake and eat it, a country not politically mature enough for peace."