Like most Arab-Israelis, the assertion of the middle class that has led to the powerful emergence of a centrist party in Israel’s remarkable, possibly trend-setting parliamentary elections, has grabbed the attention of Abed Harb.
Queuing up on a cold but sunlit afternoon in front of a takeaway cafeteria in East Jerusalem — not far from the iconic walled city — Mr. Harb, a young electronics engineer-turned-real estate developer, is eager to share his mixed emotions and complex reasoning about the elections.
Shifting his gaze from his iPhone that had so far kept him engrossed, he says the rise of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, which has secured 19 seats in its maiden outing, may not necessarily mean much for the Palestinian cause, at least in the near future.
“The rise of the Israeli Right seems to have been arrested for now and the Arab parties have also done well. These are definite positives that the elections have thrown up, but we have a long way to go,” he observes.
Many shoppers in the old city, jostling for space along narrow pavements, smoothened by generations of footfalls, attribute Mr. Lapid’s rise to economic hardships that had befallen the Israeli middle class, and not to a politically driven urgency to resolve the Palestinian issue.
“One can only hope that a process of change that has begun in Israel will eventually, out of a necessity for peace, cover a broader foreign policy agenda,” said Mohammad Salah, a teacher at a local school.
Ready to collect his packet of steaming hot Shawarma sandwich by now, Mr. Harb, the entrepreneur, wishes to make a final point. “Both the Fatah and Hamas are fast losing their legitimacy,” he says, pointing to the two Palestinian factions that have been at loggerheads since 2007.
“We need an Arab Spring in the Palestinian territories so that a new leadership change from below can emerge before we can aspire for meaningful change. To me that is still a long way off.”
Many Arab-Israelis seem to have concluded that the narrow Palestinian elite has done exceedingly well for itself, at the expense of ordinary Palestinians, who are beginning to sense the need for leadership change.
In Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority (PA), a less than an hour away from Jerusalem, the formal response to the Israeli elections has been lukewarm.
“I am not going to say that now the chances of peace are going to be drastically improved or that we are going to see a sort of left-wing coalition and a peace camp that will take over and produce instant peace,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
“You are not going to have a saviour, suddenly producing instant peace.”
The Associated Press quoted one adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as saying there was hope that a politically weakened by the vote, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would become more vulnerable to American pressure to halt settlement activity.
Both the Americans and the Palestinians are demanding the halt to fresh Israeli construction in occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank in order to revive stalled peace talks.
Islands of prosperity for Israeli settlers are an eyesore for Palestinians. Leafy Israeli settlements, connected by international quality roads, dominate many hilltops of the West Bank along most of the route from Jericho to Jerusalem — a drive of 45 minutes. Many are separated by a forbidding gray security wall, visible from the main highway, which insulates them from segregated Palestinian villages and towns.
In tune with the Israeli elections results, the Palestinian Authority (PA) on Wednesday threatened to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague over plans to construct homes along a controversial land corridor near Jerusalem.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki told the Security Council (UNSC) during a meeting on West Asia that Palestinians would approach the international court if Israel went ahead with its plans — to build 3,000 housing units in the area known as E1 stretch of land that Palestinians consider necessary for the formation of their state.
In Israel, Mr. Lapid, the head of the centrist Yesh Atid leveraged the party’s 19 seats in the new Knesset of 120 by airing two agenda setting conditions to join a coalition.
He insisted that all Israelis, without religious exception, would need to serve in the military, and the stalled peace talks with the Palestinians must resume — an insistence that would once again shift inescapable focus on the country’s policy on settlements.