The apparent comeback of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the dramatic rise of his far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies in Israel’s general election this week have prompted little more than shrugs from many Palestinians.
“It’s all the same to me,” Said Issawiy, a vendor hawking nectarines in the main al-Manara Square of Ramallah, said of Netanyahu replacing centrist Yair Lapid and poised to head the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.
Over the past month, Issawiy had struggled to get to work in Ramallah from his home in the city of Nablus after the Israeli army blocked several roads in response to a wave of violence in the northern West Bank. “I’m just trying to eat and work and bring something back to my kids,” he said.
Some view the likely victory for Netanyahu and his openly anti-Palestinian allies, including ultranationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir who wants to end Palestinian autonomy in parts of the occupied West Bank, as a new blow to the Palestinian national project.
The sharp rightward shift of Israel’s political establishment pushes long-dormant peace negotiations even further out of reach and deepens the challenges facing 87-year-old President Mahmoud Abbas, whose autocratic Palestinian Authority already seemed to many Palestinians as little more than an arm of the Israeli security forces.
“If you want to use the metaphor of a ‘nail in the coffin of the Palestinian Authority,’ that was done earlier,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian peace negotiator and Cabinet minister. “This election is another step in that same direction.”
During his 12 years in power, before being voted out in 2021, Netanyahu showed scant interest in engaging with the Palestinians. Under his leadership, Israel vastly expanded its population of West Bank settlers — now some 500,000 — and retroactively legalized settler outposts built on private Palestinian land. The measures have entrenched Israel’s occupation, now in its 56th year since Israel captured the territory during the 1967 Mideast war.
Palestinians see successive Israeli governments as seeking to solidify a bleak status quo in the West Bank: Palestinian enclaves divided by growing Israeli settlements and surrounded by Israeli forces.
“We had no illusion that this next government would be a partner for peace,” said Ahmad Majdalani, a minister in the Palestinian Authority. “It’s the opposite, we see a campaign of incitement that began more than 15 years ago as Israel drifted toward extremism.”
The Gaza Strip’s militant Hamas rulers said the election outcome would “not change the nature of the conflict.”