We’ll be big losers of Israeli elections, Palestinians say

GAZA CITY (AFP) — Palestinians fear they are likely to emerge the real losers of next week’s Israeli election if it paves the way for the ruling Kadima Party to push on with its plan to set the final borders. Acting Premier Ehud Olmert, who is leading Kadima Party as the overwhelming favourite on Tuesday, has pledged to make fixing the permanent border between the Jewish state and West Bank the main priority of the next government in the absence of progress in the bilateral peace process with the Palestinians.

Although details have yet to be fleshed out, Olmert has made clear he plans to keep hold of the major settlement blocs in the West Bank and of annexed East Jerusalem — land seen by the Palestinians as an integral part of their promised future state.

While the Palestinians welcomed seeing the back of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip last year, they have always maintained that peace in the Middle East will not come about as a result of unilateral measures but rather through negotiations.

“This policy is dictated by the Israelis and this is a bad policy,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.

Olmert continues to pay lip service to the internationally drafted roadmap peace plan, which targets a two-state solution through staged negotiations. But he also maintains that he has no partner in the peace process — especially now the Islamist movement Hamas is on the verge of forming a government.

“After the elections, whatever party wins, I’m sure that they will not come back to the negotiating table,” said Erakat. “This policy will not bring security, but more problems and more troubles.”

According to Erakat, the Palestinians will be unquestionably the big losers as their daily lives are intrinsically linked to Israel.

“How are we going to get water, food, and healthcare?” he asked.

Outgoing Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia believes Olmert is at “a first stage of confiscating” all Palestinian land.

Hamas, which was behind dozens of suicide attacks over the past five years, is even more damning in its assessment of Olmert’s strategy, describing it as a “brutal aggression” against the Palestinians.

“We will not accept unilateral or partial solutions,” Salah Al Bardawil, spokesman for Hamas’ parliamentary bloc, told AFP.

The election victory of Hamas is seen by many, however, as playing into the hands of Olmert’s unilateralism as the Islamists refuse to contemplate talks with Israel — the “Zionist entity” that Hamas refuses to recognise.

Bardawil acknowledged that the result of the election would definitely affect the Palestinians.

“The Israeli elections are always linked to the internal Palestinian situation. Any parliamentary candidate must victimise more Palestinians, occupy more of our land and break more agreements if he wants to win votes,” said Bardawil.

A poll published earlier this week found that 75 percent of the respondents thought Hamas should engage Israel in peace negotiations.

However, the poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, found that 59 percent think Hamas should not bow to the demands of the international community and recognise the Jewish state.

Questioned about the possibility of an eventual meeting with Olmert or any of his lieutenants, incoming Hamas foreign minister Mahmoud Al Zahar put the ball in Israel’s court.

“The Israelis decided not to work with any government, especially the Hamas even after our fair elections,” he told AFP.

“Israel has nothing to say to us. The new [Palestinian] government knows that and that it is therefore impossible to have negotiations whose only aim is to buy more time,” he added

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