Analysis: Will this mean a path to peace or a road to war?

In one sense, of course, the volatile new politics of the Middle East, the seismic shock of what Palestinian electors have done, and the Israeli elections still to come, is a function of the absence of two men: Yasser Arafat, who died in November 2004, and Ariel Sharon, who suffered a major stroke this January.

They were old enemies, the latter wishing aloud he had killed the former when he had the chance. But they had something in common (for three decades or more in the late Palestinian president's case, only very recently in the case of the Israeli Prime Minister): an ability to embody for many in their constituencies a sense of nationhood that went beyond mere party politics. After Mr Arafat died, it was surely high time for a new generation to emerge within Fatah, the organisation he founded with Abu Jihad in 1959 and which was so severely trounced in Wednesday's election.

Ironically, Mahmoud Abbas, though strictly a member of the "old guard", seems to have seen this. He is now again the man of the moment, the one man no one, including many in Israel and the West, who could have done more to help him during the past year, wants to resign as President.

But while he managed to see off Ahmad Qureia his unco-operative Prime Minister, and to install the jailed Marwan Barghouti (whom Israel may finally see the advantage of releasing) as number one on the candidate's list, many of those who remained on that list were associated with inefficiency, corruption and sclerosis.

This does not mean Fatah is dead. But it is hard to see it rebuilding other than under a collective leadership dominated by the post-Arafat, Barghouti generation.

After Mr Sharon was stricken, many thought that his own political apparatus would fragment and divide, much as Mr Arafat's did after his death.

That could still happen. The Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, for all his appearance of gravity, has been all but triumphalist in claiming the Hamas election victory as a vindication of his argument that the Gaza disengagement "rewarded terrorism". If he can persuade voters of that he poses a real threat to Kadima, the Sharon-founded centre party which is now in the hands of Ehud Olmert.

For now, it looks otherwise; it is far from clear that Israeli electors think Mr Netanyahu is the man for uncertain times. And the polls so far suggest Kadima's policy of gradual and limited disengagement from occupied territory still finds favour with enough of the electors to put the centre party in first place on 28 March. But two months is a long time.

Few foresaw the scale of Hamas's victory, or for that matter that Amir Peretz would win the leadership of the Israeli Labour Party from the left. If Wednesday's upset proved anything it is that the politics of this region is becoming tougher and tougher to predict.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence