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Missing the bus, again

india Updated: Feb 15, 2009 23:00 IST
Hindustan Times
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The confusion in the wake of the fractured verdict in the recent Israeli elections puts paid to any hope that the West Asian peace process may restart any time in the near future. If anything, the emergence of the extreme right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party as the third largest, after Kadima and Likud, shows that public opinion is growing against any accommodation with the Palestinians.

President Shimon Peres has his work cut out for him with Kadima leader and foreign minister Tzipi Livni and hawkish former Prime Minister and head of Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu, both locked in battle for power. As of now, the odds are in favour of Mr Netanyahu with the right-wing having a 65-55 seat advantage in the Knesset. There are also signs that a coalition of Likud and Kadima could be hammered out. But this would be inherently unstable given the bitter rivalry between Ms Livni and Mr Netanyahu. The huge gains by Yisrael Beiteinu will make it the kingmaker in the government. The party’s leader Avigdor Lieberman is dead set against any negotiations with the Palestinians unless they are on Israel’s terms. He has been open in his anti-Arab stance, something which has been noted with dismay across West Asia as the election results came in. Security was the major and seemingly the only issue in these elections which came after a bruising campaign by Israel against the militant Hamas in Gaza. With hardliners on both sides calling the shots, US President Barack Obama cannot expect any early successes in his West Asia peace policy.

Israel has been emboldened to pursue its aggressive policies against the Palestinians, something that was clearly evident in the manner in which it refused to back down in the face of international pressure over the Gaza offensive. Ms Livni, who is considered a moderate, was forced to back this stand despite enormous civilian casualties in Gaza. The voices for peace and accommodation are no longer heard on both sides. The moderate Fatah faction headed by Mahmoud Abbas has been sidelined as Hamas calls all the shots. And in Israel, the political space has been all but swallowed up by the right-wing. This suggests that it will be a long time before we are likely to see any progress towards a two-State solution, which Ms Livni had once wanted, or even a cessation of hostilities between the two sides.