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
Life and Style
health
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine