December 7, 2000 Special Dispatch No. 162

Palestinian Reactions to Early Elections in Israel

December 7, 2000
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 162

On the eve of the previous Israeli elections, Hamas spokesmen were practically alone in claiming that Netanyahu would be preferable to Barak as Israel's Prime Minister. Their argument was that although the policies of the Likud and the Labor Party were no different, Barak was more likely to enjoy broad international support.[1]

In the PLO camp, there were only a few who endorsed this position,[I] the most prominent of whom was senior journalist Elyas Al-Zananiri. Ten days before the elections, he wrote an article entitled "Bibi is Good for the Arabs," and claimed that "History will yet prove that the Israeli Prime Minister who best served the Palestinian issue on the international level was Netanyahu." As evidence, Al-Zananiri mentioned the international support for the Palestinians and the improvement of relations between the PLO and the US in Netanyahu's days. He concluded saying: "Since the [1996] elections, Netanyahu has granted [the Palestinians] a blessed service - a service which was beyond our wildest dreams."[2]

This position that, on the eve of the 1999 elections, was held only by a few - has now become prevelant among many Palestinians.

Generally, members of the PLO and the PA seem to be satisfied with Barak's failure to continue. General Secretary of the PA Cabinet, Ahmad Abd Al-Rahman stated explicitly that "Barak's fall is one of the outstanding accomplishments of the Intifada."[3] Head of the Palestinian National Council, Salim Za'noun, stated that the Palestinian's experience with Barak's government was even worse than with Netanyahu's.[4]

Palestinian commentators, it seems, have reached some sort of a consensus that a government headed by Barak is not preferable to a government headed by Netanyahu, and maybe even worse. Analyst Bilal Al-Hassan warned against repeating the "mistake" of 1996. "Now," he wrote, "American and Western voices will be heard advising the Palestinians to concede and to allow Barak to win the elections, because the alternative is Ariel Sharon, and Sharon will crack down on the Intifada with greater violence and will retreat from the permanent solution plan proposed by Barak."

"Such deception has already been sold more than once to the Palestinians, and they bought it and helped Barak win against Netanyahu. The result was worse than in the days of Netanyahu...I am sure that the Palestinians have learned their lesson. They cannot fall into this trap again"...[5]

An article by Director-General of the PA Information Ministry, Hassan Al-Kashef, suggests that, indeed, the Palestinians have "learned their lesson." "We anticipated Shimon Peres in 1996," he wrote, "The Palestinians spared no effort and supported Peres wholeheartedly. However, Peres chose to compete with Likud, put on his helmet, and commited the crime of Qana [in Lebanon]."

"Then, we had the experience of the [1999] elections in which Barak beat Netanyahu; but Barak has not advanced one step in the direction of peace. On the contrary, he has gone several steps on the way to destroying the peace..."

"I hear those who claim that Sharon or Netanyahu are worse and that Barak is still preferable... [However,] I say that we must choose between a peace based on Israel's will [in case the Labor wins], and one forced upon Israel [in case Likud wins]." The last seven years were a test for the former... now we must, once and for all, choose the UN Security Council..."

Al-Kashef warned that if the Palestinians don't take his advice, and wait for Barak, they will get him "without all of his [parliamentary] crises, but with all of his redlines."[6]

Analyst and offial in the PA Information Ministry, Hani Al-Masri, wrote that Barak is not preferable to Netanyahu. "Again we have begun to hear the old tune that Barak is the lesser of two evils... and that the alternative, whether Netanyahu or Sharon, would mark the drowning of the peace process in a stinking swamp for many years...However the Palestinian leadership is not so stupid as to invest in a loser and a weakling leader." [7]

Analyst Ashraf Al-'Ajrami joined the opposition to Barak and stated that, if Barak falls, "it will benefit the Palestinians, because a right wing government will not necessarily be worse."

Al-'Ajrami explained, "Even if the right wins the elections, it will not be able to retreat from the ideas raised at Camp David; at the same time, it cannot be worse on the military level. In addition, the left wing opposition will lie in wait for Likud and encourage it to be more forthcoming towards the Palestinians." In conclusion, he stated, "Even if all this does not happen, at least we will be rid of a bad Prime Minister; in such a case, we will wait for new opportunities in the future which will be forced by our struggle." [8]

Analyst Mamaduh Nofal presented a similar position. "...Netanyahu, the extreme right winger, would not be able to carry out such crimes if he was in power and Labor remained in the opposition," he wrote. "It is probable that the right wing candidate, if he wins, will not repeat Barak's deeds."

Nofal also brought up Barak's proposal to transfer 10% of the West Bank territory to the Palestinians and to recognize a Palestinian state in exchange for deferring the issues of Jerusalem and the refugees. "The Palestinians do not forget," Nafal wrote, "that Netanyahu agreed at the Wye River summit, and without any Intifada, to withdraw from 13% and even carried out the first phase of the withdrawal." [9]

Analyst Talal 'Aoukal focused on his claim that "the Israelis have not yet reached a level of maturity that will allow the emergence of terms for peace acceptable to the Palestinians." 'Aoukal praised MK 'Azmi Bshara "who was not taken in by any illusion concerning Barak when he announced that he would support any proposal that would bring about the fall of Barak and his government, regardless of who will replace him."

'Aoukal added that the PA must act as Bshara did. "Did not President Arafat say a month ago about Barak: 'let him go to hell?'" asked 'Aoukal, and went on claiming that this statement by Arafat is "a policy that must be adhered to. It means that we understand perfectly that the terms for signing an historic agreement [are not yet ripe]. Therefore, we must do everything to tighten the rope around the necks of Barak and his government - and let the chips fall where they may..."[10]

Editor of the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Hafez Al-Barghuthi cautioned against politicians and analysts from Arab countries who warn of the possibility that Sharon or Netanyahu will replace Barak: "I don't understand why we should be afraid of either Sharon or Netanyahu. The Palestinians played an important role in weakening Sharon the blood-letter, in toppling Netanyahu the liar, and in undermining the status of Barak the Butcher." According to Al-Barghuthi, the attempts to scare the Palestinians from possible successors to Barak "are futile, because our people will not give up anyway and will [continue] the Intifada..."[11]

[I]A Palestinian officer was quoted as saying: "Labor ruins us and receives a Nobel Prize for it, while the Likud ruins us and is denounced and internationally isolated." Al-Ayyam (PA), February 8, 1999

[1] For example, Hamas spokesman, Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, Al-Quds (PA), January 22, 1999; also, Deputy Head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Mussa Abu Marzuq, Al-Ayyam (PA), February 1, 1999.

[2] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 7, 2000.

[3] Al-Ayyam (PA), November 30, 2000.

[4] Al-Quds (PA), December 2, 2000.

[5] Al-Hayat (London-Beirut), November 30, 2000.

[6] Al-Ayyam (PA), November 30, 2000.

[7] Al-Ayyam (PA), December 2, 2000.

[8] Al-Ayyam (PA), November 30, 2000.

[9] Al-Ayyam (PA), December 3, 2000.

[10] Al-Ayyam (PA), November 30, 2000.

[11] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), December 1, 2000.

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