Arabs fear rise of hard-right in Israel
Arab world fears rise of Israeli right will impede peace process with Palestinians, put more pressure on US President Barack Obama. Former Egyptian ambassador to Israel predicts Netanyahu to lead government, says coalition with extreme right will send peace talks back to square one
Arabs on Wednesday saw little hope for peace from whatever government emerges from Israel's inconclusive elections, and they expressed fears over the rising power of Israel's far right.
With the prospect of a hard-line Israeli government, some in the region said any progress in Arab-Israeli negotiations will now rely even more on pressure from President Barack Obama, who has said his administration will take an active role in pursuing a Mideast peace.
"Everybody knows that peace is in the hands of the Americans, and that the US Iis capable of practicing pressures on any given government," said Saudi analyst Anwar Eshki, head of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies in Jeddah.
"Obama promised to achieve peace and he is the one who chose the Palestinian file to be at the top of his foreign policy agenda," he said.
'Israelis electing war and extremism'Tuesday's election in Israel left the two top parties neck-and-neck - the Kadima party of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who favors pursuing peace talks, and the Likud of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who has derided negotiations as a waste of time and rejects a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
But the voting in general boosted right-wing parties - particularly extreme right politician Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party. The final word on who forms a government will likely be determined by Lieberman.
Newspapers across the Middle East decried Lieberman's rise, denouncing him as racist and a sign of growing extremism in Israel. "The Israelis are electing war and extremism," the Syrian government-run Al-Thawra newspaper said.
"It's the same no matter from which trend the government comes. There is one trend in Israel; so long as the Israeli street is extremist and racist, the (Israeli) government would be like it."
In Iran, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi called it "regretful" that all sides tried to appeal to the right wing in their election campaigns.
"Each party tried to show a more brutal, aggressive and pro-occupation face toward Palestinians," Qashqavi said. He added that Tehran has no official stance on Israel's election since it does not recognize the country.
'Illusion of peace possible with Livni'
Arabs see somewhat better hopes for peace negotiations under the more centrist Livni. But several political analysts said any government she forms will likely rely on far-right parties or be too weak to make decisive moves in the peace process.
"The only difference between a right-wing and center-leaning government in Israel is that with Livni, it will be possible to market the illusion of the existence of a peace process for another year or two," said Oraib al-Rentawi, head of the Al Quds Center for Political Studies, a private think tank based in Jordan.
"But with Netanyahu's government, the mission will be far more difficult."
In the peace process, Arabs have long been suspicious of Israel's centrist and leftist parties, pointing out that they have continued with expansion of Jewish settlements in the territories that the Palestinians seek for an independent state. Still, they see hope in the acceptance by those parties - including Livni's - of the idea of a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu's Likud, however, is opposed to any state, and during Netanyahu's three-year term as prime minister a decade ago, he largely froze the interim peace deals his predecessors negotiated with the Palestinians.
'Back to square one'Netanyahu says he wants to negotiate only better economic conditions for the Palestinians. Still, Netanyahu did seal some deals with the Palestinians while prime minister, most notably the handover of most of the West Bank city of Hebron to Palestinian control.
A former Egyptian ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Bassiouni, said he expected Netanyahu would be named prime minister and that he was open to movement on peace - depending on who else makes up the government.
"If he forged coalition with extremists of right-wing parties, peace will return to square zero," Bassiouni told The Associated Press.
"But if he formed a national unity government, where Kadima, Labor and even Israel Our Home are represented, there is actually a chance to move forward."