Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Haaretz is reporting exit polls released as polling stations in Israel closed at 10 P.M. Tuesday showed center-left parties gaining a total of between 62 and 66 seats, with Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima winning 29 to 32 seats, Labor 20-22 seats, Meretz five and the Arab parties seven to eight seats.

The Likud, which had hoped to block a center-left coalition, won 11 to 12 seats in the poll, far below the figures the party had hoped and a far cry from the 38 seats it won under Ariel Sharon in 2003.

The total voter turnout was 63 percent, by far the lowest percentage in Israel's history. The previous low was notched in 2003, when 68 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots.

The results, if accurate, could mean that the Likud would become Israel's fourth largest party, with the Russian immigrant-dominated Yisrael Beiteinu becoming the third largest list in the 120-seat house with 12 to 14 seats.

A top aide to Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinian Authority chairman was ready to renew negotiations with Israel immediately.

"We're ready to go into direct and immediate negotiations to implement the road map if the Israeli government is ready," said Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh. "We hope to see an Israeli government ready to implement the road map."

Hamas, for its part, spoke out against unilateralism. "Let's see how things will develop in the future. At the moment, what we see and what is declared is a unilateral separation plan from Olmert," said Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader.

"This plan is rejected by the Palestinian people."

"Our interest is that any party which rules in the occupation state should be brave to recognize the rights of our people in establishing their full sovereign state with Jerusalem as its capital and to free male and female prisoners in their jails and to recognize the right of return."

For an idea of what other Palestinians think about all this read the article below from Aljazeera.

Palestinians see little change

Palestinians have little interest in Israeli elections

In the face of grim political prospects and ever-increasing physical and economic isolation, Palestinians are reacting to the Israeli elections with indignant apathy.

Many see the outcome as a given, with Ariel Sharon's successor Ehud Olhmert slated to win, and consider the front-running Israeli parties to be essentially two sides of the same coin.

Abu Diyab Abu al-Awf, 72, lives in the al-Bureij refugee camp in eastern Gaza. "Each of the candidates is worse than the next as far as Palestinians are concerned," he said. "The only difference is, some are stronger and make certain pragmatic decisions, and some don't."

But ultimately, Abu al-Awf believes, "none has the interests of the Palestinians, or of a just peace, in mind".

Rami al-Mugheiri, 31, said: "Past experience has taught us not to expect much from Israeli elections. Whatever leader will come to power, the most we will get is tough lengthy negotiations that mainly concentrate on marginal issues."

By way of example, al-Mugheiri referred to the elections in 2000, when Israelis voted Ehud Barak's Labour party into power. Barak was "nevertheless intransigent regarding the Palestinians' right to return, Jerusalem, and continued settlement expansion", during the Camp David talks.

'No difference'

A recent poll by Near East Consulting found that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians believe that it makes no difference who wins the Israeli elections for future Palestinian-Israeli relations. Additionally, 56 per cent of Palestinians believe that all Israeli parties are the same when it comes to the likelihood of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians

Saeed Abo Salah, 40, is a farmer from the village of Bait Hanun in northern Gaza. "I am not a Hamas supporter," he said. "But let me say this: we've given enough concessions — a whole decade of concessions — free, and what did we get in return?"

And that, Abo Salah points out, was in dealing with supposedly left-wing Israeli governments. "So why should the upcoming governments be any different?"

"Why should it matter who wins?"

Palestinians believe that any new Israeli government, even a Kadima-Labour coalition, will inevitably continue the policy of unilateralism established by Sharon. That would make a negotiated settlement and a Palestinian state impossible, they say.

Umayma Nabaheeni, a graduate student in Gaza City's Islamic University, said that the Israelis "see no partner" in the Palestinians. "Even before Hamas came to power that was their mantra," she said.

"They are annexing our land in the West Bank, drawing their own borders, isolating our towns and holy places. They have put the blinders on and act as if we don't exist. They have their own plan in mind, and it doesn't include our rights. So why should it matter who wins?"

As part of its platform, the Kadima party has vowed to keep Jerusalem and large settlement blocs in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law, under Israeli control.

Outlandish elections

Suleiman Abu Said, a political analyst, said the elections are not irrelevant to Palestinians, rather the loss of interest is attributable to the Palestinians' preoccupation with their "harsh realities and daily living", which have rendered the elections outlandish to them.

Palestinians "don't have the mental equanimity to really pay attention to the Israeli elections, knowing beforehand that nothing positive would come out of them", Abu Saif said.

Palestinians, he said, "are convinced that there is no qualitative or real difference between Israeli political parties", which they see as vying with each other to torment Palestinians, deny them their rights, and steal their land. "So the bulk of the Palestinians do not think there is anything worthwhile that can be expected from the Israeli elections."

Imposed solutions

Hamas legislators have echoed similar opinions, saying that even the most left-leaning of Israeli governments has never truly negotiated, but rather imposed solutions upon Palestinian governments.

Atif Udwan, a Hamas MP and minister of state-designate, said: "The Israeli governments of the last decade did not negotiate with us. Rather, they imposed ideas on us that we accepted. But the next government won't accept such policies and the Israeli way of dealing with the government.

"We consider the ball to be in the Israeli playing field — and we don't anticipate that they will kick it our way, no matter who wins."

By Laila M. El-Haddad

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