Palestinians fear for peace talks after Israel vote

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As Israeli political parties battle for power after a tight vote, Palestinians remain pessimistic about the leadership of a possible right-wing government.

RAMALLAH – Faced with a possible right-wing Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian Authority is bracing for its tottering peace talks with the Jewish state to halt completely.

"It is obvious that Israel will not get a government capable of continuing the negotiations," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Al-Quds, the main daily in the Palestinian territories, was equally pessimistic.

"Diplomatic activity in general and the peace process in particular will be frozen," it said.

The centrist Kadima party of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni - who has been leading peace talks with the Palestinians for more than a year - held a tiny lead as the last ballots were being counted, but Netanyahu, a hawkish former premier, appeared in a better position to cobble together a coalition.

Hardline parties gained ground on the back of the Gaza war and security concerns, and a strong showing by Yisrael Beitenu put the ultra-nationalist party in a potential position as a kingmaker.

"These elections have complicated the political situation in the region," Abed Rabbo told AFP.

"As for us, we rule out any negotiation with the next Israeli government, irrespective of who leads it, if it doesn't announce the complete halt of settlement activity."

Since it was relaunched after a seven-year hiatus at a US conference in November 2007, the peace process has made little progress, with continued construction activity in Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank among the major hurdles.

Netanyahu insists that peace negotiations should be held only after the economic situation of Palestinians has improved, while Livni has distanced herself from a call for the evacuation in the near future of 60,000 settlers.

"It's obvious the Israelis have voted to paralyse the peace process," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.

"The outcome of the Israeli elections indicates there won't be in Israel a government capable of doing what is needed to achieve peace."

Fawzi Barhum, a spokesman for the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza, said Israelis had voted for "extremists".

"These results confirm that the Israeli public has voted for the most bellicose candidates, those who are the most extremist in their rhetoric," he said.

"The arrival of the Livni-Netanyahu-Lieberman trio confirms that the terrorist culture dominates Israeli voters."

Lieberman has vowed to take a hard line against Hamas, and has been called a "fascist" and a "racist" by critics for his extreme rhetoric about Israel's Arab minority.

Hamas - which endured a devastating three-week Israeli offensive in Gaza that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis - had originally expressed little interest in the vote, saying all Israeli leaders were equally bad.

Since the Gaza war ended on 18 January with Israel and Hamas declaring ceasefires, Egypt has struggled to mediate a more permanent truce, a task that now could prove even more difficult with a right-wing Israeli government.

Netanyahu has said the Hamas-run government in Gaza should be toppled and faulted outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for halting the war too soon.

[AFP / Expatica]

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