The Arab world voiced pessimism on Wednesday about Israel’s indecisive election, with many fearing that the real winner was the extreme-right wing parties who could, in an upcoming government, deal a new blow to the fragile peace process.
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 the Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, a hawkish former prime minister, appeared in a better position to be able to gather a coalition.
Both Hamas and Fatah officials expressed skepticism over the ability of the next Israeli government to engage in constructive peace process talks.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said, "It is obvious that Israel will not get a government capable of continuing the negotiations."
But President Mahmoud Abbas said whatever the next Israeli cabinet is, it would be obliged to continue peace talks and meet international obligations. "The ascent of the Israeli right does not worry us," he told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.
His Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told reporters Israel must meet international obligations. "We imagine that the expectations of the international community (toward Israel) will be the same as ours," he said.
Hamas, which endured a devastating three-week Israeli offensive in Gaza, had originally expressed little interest in the vote, saying all Israeli leaders were equally bad.
But after the exit polls, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said Israelis had voted for "the most bellicose candidates, those who are the most extremist in their rhetoric."
“We do not differentiate between Zionist parties; there is no difference between Livni, Barak, Lieberman, and Netanyahu,” Barhum said according to the Euronews Web site. “We’ve had experience with them over many years, they massacred the Palestinian people.”
Following the elections, the main daily newspaper in the Palestinian territories, Al-Quds, wrote, “Diplomatic activity in general and the peace process in particular will be frozen."
“There will be a continuation of the political paralysis that has characterized the government of (Prime Minister) Ehud Olmert since the (2006) Lebanon war, and all the Arab and international initiatives will be shelved for the time being."
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the Palestinian Authority’s daily, wrote, "The substance is the same: murders, settlements and destruction."
"We expect a continuation of the same Israeli policies, renewed aggression in Gaza, the continuation of settlements in the West Bank and the demolition of houses in Jerusalem," the daily added.
Other Arab newspapers criticized the Israeli public for demonstrating large support for right-wing parties.
"How is it possible that a society, aspiring to peace can give a fascist like this (Avigdor Lieberman) such broad support, giving him the possibility of one day becoming prime minister of Israel?" Egypt’s state-owned Al-Ahram daily wrote.
Opinions of Netanyahu, who has campaigned as a security hardliner pledging to topple the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip, are little better. "For those who don’t know him, Benjamin Netanyahu feels the Arabs only understand the language of violence," Egypt’s state-owned Al-Gomhuriya wrote.
"Simply put … if the peace process is encountering obstacles at the moment … with Netanyahu it will be hindered by several thousand mines."
During his premiership in 1996-1999, Netanyahu put the brakes on the peace process with the Palestinians, in part by authorizing a major expansion of Jewish settlements.
But he also made concessions to the Palestinians under U.S. pressure and concluded two agreements with the late Yasser Arafat; even shaking the hand of the man he had once branded a "war criminal."
Syria’s official Ath-Thawra daily wrote that Arab nations should respond to the Israeli election by backing resistance movements. "There’s no difference between Livni and Netanyahu. Their coming to power will change nothing of the current realities."
In Jordan, the English-language Jordan Times wrote that the results make "little difference" for the Arabs. "While Israelis may have differed over who to vote for among party leaders in their country, for the Palestinians, Arabs in general, the differences between the candidates are marginal, and of little or no consequence."
Dalal al-Bizri, a columnist with the pan-Arab Al-Hayat, told AFP that the Israeli election "is like entering a vicious circle of spiraling violence."
"Violence leads to violence which leads to another kind of violence. I think this is the expression of a deep crisis within the Israeli entity itself which is at once incapable of making peace or war."
(Alarabiya.net and Agencies)