Gaza reacts to Israeli elections

Israeli elections on Tuesday have produced varied reactions on the Gaza street some 3 weeks after the end of Israel’s military assault on the Gaza Strip killed 1,300 Palestinians and injured more than 5,000. MENASSATs Ola Madhoun talked to a wide cross-section of Gazans, from armed resistance factions to school teachers to gauge expectations of the new Israeli leadership.
Political posters were standard offerings in the weeks prior to Israel's elections. © Electronic Intifada

GAZA, February 11, 2009 (MENASSAT) –  “The (Israeli) elections are of no concern to us. The leaders are all the same - the new government will be no less bloody than its predecessors,” Gaza schoolteacher Samar Abu Hamid told MENASSAT on the eve of Israeli elections.

While neither of the two-main parties emerged as clear winners on Tuesday, it is likely that leaders Tzipi Livni of the centrist Kadima party, and Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party will do little to veer from previous diplomatic positions where Palestinians are concerned.

Both leaders have said they refuse to engage in diplomatic talks with Hamas the ruling party in the Gaza Strip since 2007.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told MENASSAT that any future peace would certainly be linked to such a negotiation.

Reactions from the resistance

According to Barhoum, the fact that the three most powerful parties – Kadima, Likud and the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu - won the majority of parliamentary seats in the election was proof that the Israeli public was opting for “security” and not peace.

“(Foreign minister) Livni who wants to continue the war against the Palestinians. Netanyahu declared there is no such thing as a Palestinian partner and that he wouldn’t be committed to any agreements with the Palestinians. And Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu leader)has said he wanted to throw Palestinians in the sea, kill them and expel them,” Barhoum said.

Abu Moujahed, spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees told MENASSAT that most of Gaza’s armed factions were ambivalent to the election results, and were instead preparing what he said was the next Israeli offensive.

“Remember what he (Lieberman) said during the Gaza War…that Israel should hit Gaza with a nuclear bomb to destroy everything in it,” Moujahed said.

Abu Hamza spokesman for Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, agreed that resistance was the priority of Gaza’s armed factions, and that Israel’s elections did not diminish this fact.

Israeli elections “have always been and still are at the expense of the Palestinian people,” he told MENASSAT, emphasizing that the Brigades were preparing to attack Israel in retaliation for the assassination of one of their top men, Khaled Kafarna who was killed by Israeli warplanes on February 2 in Beit Hanoun, north Gaza.

Negotiating with who?

One of the more contentious campaign issues in the three weeks prior to Tuesday’s elections was the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit captured by Hamas in 2006.

Hamas spokesman Barhoum was very clear on this point. “Shalit has a special price the Israelis know all too well. We stand by our three demands of the Israeli political establishment.”

According Barhoum, the three negotiating points include lifting the near two-year blockade, halting all extrajudicial attacks in the Gaza Strip and opening all the border crossings, including Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt.

Meanwhile, Said Mansour, a student in Law School in the Islamic University in Gaza, said he and his peers were closely monitoring the Israeli elections this year.

Monsour said he preferred the far-right policies of parties like Yisrael Beitenu because “they are clear in their politics of refusing to deal with Palestinians.”

“Whereas the Labor party, Kadima and Likud, although they declare they are inclined to peace and the establishment of a Palestinian State, on the ground, they are the most violent and the most destructive.”

Operation Cast Lead being the most obvious example. “I think Olmert’s government paved the way for the next government to put more pressure on us, to starve us and deprive us of our most basic rights,” Monsour said.

Certainly the huge internal division between Hamas and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’ party Fatah leaves many in Gaza wondering who will negotiate on their behalf if peace talks do indeed resume.

Mahmoud al-Nizli, 35, told MENASSAT, “Palestinian unity is the only thing that would prevent the complete destruction of the Palestinian society in the face of Livni, Netanyahu and the right extremist parties coming to power.”

Recent attempts to bring Hamas and Fatah together to agree on a power-sharing government have failed, and no amount of negotiating has been able to mend the rift that has only gotten worse since Hamas was elected to power in 2006.