Palestinians slow to recognize significance of Israeli election By Pinhas Inbari

28 January 2013
The Israeli election result has caught many, including the Palestinians, off guard. While it was expected that the Likud-led right-wing government would win and even push Israel further to the political right, Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party came in second and is set to be Prime Minister Netanyahu’s main partner in the next government.

The Palestinian reaction to the election’s results suggests that they are slow to adapt to a centrist government in Israel and feel more at home when facing the right. The Palestinian leadership was ready to pursue a campaign designed to smear Israel’s name and isolate it within the international community. A right-wing government in Israel would have served the campaign much better than a centrist coalition.

Western powers, far more than Arab states, are eager for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations to resume. On the eve of the election, France made it clear it would propose a peace plan, together with Great Britain, as soon as the election was over. The French felt it was important to issue such a declaration as it, too, expected Israel to emerge with a radical right-wing government. Now that Lapid is likely to become the new face of Israel, the pressure will shift to the Palestinians.

Thus far, the Europeans have recognized the 1949 Armistice lines (also known as the 1967 lines) as the borders between any future Palestinian state and Israel. They have also accepted the Israeli position that negotiations should resume without preconditions.

The European vote in the United Nations in favor of the Palestinian state did not alter the situation on the ground or the Europeans’ treatment of the Palestinians as a bona fide state.

In the past, the Palestinian pre-condition for negotiations has been a freeze of all settlement activity. However, following the UN statehood resolution, they will be hard pressed to sit at the negotiating table without Israel recognizing a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines. Despite his centrist credentials, Lapid is not likely to support this Palestinian position. Lapid, who wants to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, launched his electoral campaign in the settlement of Ariel and supports the Likud position of retaining settlement blocs that include Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim and others.

Yet the Yesh Atid leader is also a close friend of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who he might consider his mentor on foreign policy issues. In that case, the delineation of clear borders between Israel and the Palestinians and an Israeli convergence to the major settlement blocs would be a prime foreign policy objective.

Netanyahu would never accept the convergence idea but might agree to make certain gestures in order to give peace negotiations a chance. This could include concessions in Area C (the Israeli-controlled zones in the West Bank) in order to win over the Europeans.

It is unlikely the Palestinians will accept either of these scenarios. Further to the recognition of statehood at the UN, they cannot publicly compromise on anything less than statehood within the 1967 lines. Interestingly, PLO secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo suggested that the newly reinvigorated Labor and Meretz parties together with Yesh Atid meet with the PLO – without any Likud representatives present. It seems that Ramallah is set to continue boycotting Likud and opening channels with those outside the ruling party only.

The Palestinian problem is not the main focus of either Lapid or the Israeli public. It will only receive great attention due to European and American pressure on Israeli and Palestinian leaderships.

While Israel is preoccupied with a domestic agenda, the Palestinians are hoping to ride the statehood wave all the way to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.