THE MOST LIKELY OUTCOME
"The Israeli elections will be held today, with the most likely outcome (according to the latest polls on the eve of the elections), that the right-wing headed by Binyamin Netanyahu will form the next government," writes Hani al-Masri in Tuesday's leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
In that case, the existing situation will not change. The most that the next government can do will be to end the withholding of Palestinian tax returns in return for continuing [PA/Israeli] security coordination. This is because Israel’s security services fear the consequences of an end to such coordination on the grounds that it may lead to the PA's collapse or its transformation into an authority hostile to Israel.
The other possibility is that the [Labor Party/ Hatnuah] Zionist Camp in alliance with other parties – including religious and right wing parties – will succeed in forming a government. In that case, withholding tax revenues will end, and we may see a partial freeze on settlement activities as a prelude to resuming the negotiations in return for a freeze on the Palestinian side’s moves on the international scene, especially the lawsuits brought against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The third possibility, which may be the more likely, is that of a national unity government resulting from the failure of either camp to form the government alone. In that case, it would be a paralyzed government and will not last long. The most it can do is to end the withholding of Palestinian monies.
The issue that will receive most interest after the Israeli elections – as I detected in Washington, New York, and other American cities included in my current visit to the U.S. – is this: Will an international will take shape to impose a return to negotiations with active international participation on the basis of the generally known criteria – withdrawal to the 1967 borders with 'land swaps'; the establishment of a Palestinian state; guarantees for Israel's security; and an agreed upon solution for the refugee issue?
The talk here in the U.S., especially in Palestinian and Arab circles, is about how daring the U.S. administration will be in taking the initiative at the end of the U.S. president's second term. That would be similar to what most American presidents have done at the end of their term in office, especially since the president's hands are not totally tied due to the absence of any laws that prevent him from taking such initiatives, unlike in the case of the Iranian nuclear file. Moreover, the president has wide-ranging powers when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. Furthermore, in light of the tensions witnessed in U.S./Israeli relations in recent years, and after personal relations between Obama and Netanyahu have deteriorated, especially after the latter's recent visit and speech to Congress, such initiative may seem more plausible.
If there is an American will to work with the major powers and the international community – as happened in the Iranian nuclear file, the Ukraine, and (for a while) in the Syrian file – then the outcome of the Israeli elections will not matter that much. This is because the international will can impose itself on any Israeli government. Naturally, it would be easier to impose a solution if the government in Israel is not exclusively right wing. This is why no attempt is being made to disguise the American, European, Arab, and international desire to see Netanyahu fall – so much so that he, his party figures, and his election campaign have repeatedly pointed to foreign intervention and the attempt to influence the elections' results against him and his ruling coalition's interests.
The sources we have met point to a Russian, Chinese, and European (especially French) will to call for collective international action to impose a solution on both sides before the situation deteriorates completely. This has become urgent after the Palestinians' determination to head to the international arena, resort to the ICC, and end security coordination as part of a complete reconsideration of Palestinian/Israeli relations.
No one is confident that the U.S. administration is ready to try to impose a solution on both sides. But there is general agreement that failure to act will hammer the last nail into the coffin of the so-called 'peace process' in the Middle East and the so-called 'two-state solution.'
The appointment of Robert Malley in charge of the Middle East file in the U.S. administration has been viewed by many circles as a sign of possible change in U.S. policy. This is because Malley does not belong to the camp of pro-Israeli officials; in fact, he has placed some blame on Israel for the failure of former American efforts and initiatives. He has also called for bringing Hamas into the political process and proposed that some flexibility should be shown regarding the preconditions for such a move.
It is probably true that international action with American participation may be in the offing. But the fear is that U.S. and European pressures will be directed at the Palestinian side. This is because the nature of the relations and shared interests and aims that link the U.S. to Israel are far deeper and greater than to be damaged by the bad relations between the U.S. president and the Israeli PM. Moreover, the Palestinian side is the weak and divided party that is most susceptible to pressure.
For this reason, utmost importance should be given to ending the inter-Palestinian [Fateh/Hamas] split and regaining Palestinian unity. The old approach should be changed and a new one adopted that does not in any way allow for the resumption of negotiations or a minor improvement in their terms. Moreover, international participation in the negotiations, even if accompanied by Arab and regional participation, will not necessarily be in the Palestinians' interest. In fact, it may turn against them unless it is clearly and definitely based on international law and UN resolutions, with guarantees that the negotiations will be concerned with the means of imposing these resolutions and laws, and not be negotiations over the resolutions and laws themselves.
Continued talk of an Israeli withdrawal on the basis of the 1967 borders with land exchanges may open the gates of hell because this will be used by Israel to annex and rent large occupied areas for extended periods, which would legitimize the occupation and practically end the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state.
There is an illusion that is once again appearing in Palestinian and Arab circles stemming from the wager on the results of the Israeli elections, or on a U.S. administration in its last days in office, or on the international will. This is a terrible mistake that has already been committed in the past; and there is absolutely no reason to commit it again. For wagering on the occupation and those who support the occupation cannot produce a solution that will be in the interest of the occupied.
In fact, if such a wager leads to a solution, it will be in the occupier's interest; and if it does not lead to a solution, it will waste more valuable time.
"And that would be a pure gain for the occupation," concludes Masri.