Elections In Israel

Palestinians Cautious On Lapid

George Hale speaks to current and former Palestinian officials about the Israeli election results.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank greeted Benjamin Netanyahu’s slim victory late Tuesday with a collective yawn. That doesn't mean current and former Palestinian officials didn't take note. Some gloated that the Israeli prime minister took a hit in the parliamentary election, while would-be Palestinian negotiators played down speculation that relative centrist Yair Lapid’s surprise gains signaled the chance of a Netanyahu-led government prepared to make peace with the Palestinians.

“This is the best possible outcome for us,” said a mid-ranking PLO insider on the condition that his name not be used because the leadership in Ramallah isn't taking a position on the result, and especially not that position. In the weeks leading up to the vote, multiple officials prophesied the end of the peace process at the hands of rightist candidate Naftali Bennett. Now they are struggling to stay on message after the awaited rightward lurch failed to materialize. “Even if Meretz gets 30 seats, we won’t say we’re happy,” the official explained, mindful of the Palestinians' usual avoidance of commenting on internal Israeli affairs. “But if you want to make it personal, we’re so glad that bastard lost 10 seats.”

Personal gripes aside, other officials sought to tamp down any expectations that an Israeli government that included unexpectedly successful center-left parties would translate into progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.“The coalition will be his message, and Netanyahu is going to be Netanyahu,” predicted Mohammad Shtayyeh, a former Palestinian minister and member of previous negotiating teams with Israel. “Lapid is not very far from Netanyahu’s position,” Shtayyeh said of the populist candidate who launched his campaign in a settlement—one of the Israeli towns built on occupied Palestinian territory. “What kind of message is he sending, he’s ready to be a partner for peace? It seems not."

For Shtayyeh, the “real test” for Lapid is deciding if he will join a coalition formed with long-term political aspirations in mind or one which “is ready to go against this Palestinian reality, this building anger” on the ground in the occupied territories. Netanyahu’s likely new government “will not be very far from the one he has now," Shtayyeh warned, speaking just after midnight Wednesday as exit poll results were still being tallied. "This means a continuation of settlement building, an absence of peace in his mind."