Hamas and the Gaza Strip Become the Major Electoral Issues in Israel

Monday 22 December 2008, by Sergio YAHNI

The three major political parties in Israel, Likud, Kadima and Labor, published their lists of candidates for the 10 February parliamentary elections as the political platforms of the parties toward the elections begins to be clearer. As the elections approach, it is difficult to find significant ideological differences among the major actors.

All three major political parties have marginalized Palestinian citizens of Israel in their list of candidates for the Knesset. Furthermore, women, new immigrants and Jews of non-European origin are under-represented in the electoral lists. Among the first 20 candidates, the Likud included four women, three non-European Jews and two new immigrants. Kadima included five women, seven non-European Jews and three new immigrants.

Among the three major parties, only the Labor Party included non-Jews among the first 20 candidates—Ghaleb Majadlah and Shakhib Shanaan in the 15th and 16th place of the list respectively. According to the latest polls, at least one of them, Ghaleb Majadlah, has some chance of being elected. The Labor party is also the party with the highest rate of Jews of non-European descent in their lists, but they, as well as women and new immigrants, are still under-represented. However, the relatively larger representation of minorities in the party list does not amount to a representative political agenda.

The agendas presented by the three major political parties are also quite similar and all attempt to control the perception of an Israeli political consensus along related lines. The three major political parties center their electoral platform on the negotiations process, yet none of them believes that peace can actually be achieved.

The only political surprise during this election cycle occurred in the Likud lists, when, as a result of the primary elections, two extreme right-wing candidates managed to sneak into the first 20 spots. Both of them, however, were moved by the party’s electoral committee to places that polls do not predict as realistic.

Because of the personal and political similarities amongst the major political parties, the real political agent towards the elections is external to the contest: the Hamas government in Gaza. The fate of Kadima’s head, Tzipi Livni; of Ehud Barak, Chairman of the Labor Party; and Likud head, Benjamin Netanyahu, depends on what will happen in Gaza now that the ceasefire has ended.

Six months of ceasefire brought some silence to Israeli population centers bordering the Gaza Strip, but did not improve the situation of the Palestinian population in Gaza. To the contrary, Israel continued its blockade, allowing the Palestinian population to cover, only partially, its most urgent needs.

Israeli policies during the six-month ceasefire included the imposition of a premeditated shortage of fuel, medicine and food, seeking to convince the population in Gaza that there is no real achievement in the ceasefire. Finally, on 4 November, Israel killed six Hamas operatives, thus, in practical terms, bringing the ceasefire to an end.

On Thursday 18 December, Hamas officially announced the end of the ceasefire. This announcement surprised Israeli intelligence officials and politicians, who believed the organization had a stake in the ceasefire and assumed that Israel can continue with its unilateral policies.

As Israel’s election day approaches, this Hamas announcement adds uncertainty to the Israeli political system.

Before the announcement by Hamas, the question of how Israel should handle the political and military process with the Palestinians was a theoretical one. Following the announcement, the manner in which a new, low intensity war on the Gaza border will be handled will decide the political fate of the three major political parties in Israel.

No one believes that Israeli will succeed in achieving its objectives through a cost-free and quick operation in Gaza. On the contrary, both the Israeli military and senior analysts claim that a successful operation in Gaza will require Israel to reoccupy Gaza and believe that such an operation will have an unpredictable impact on Israeli relations with Egypt and Jordan, as well as with the Hezbollah and Syria.

While the Israeli military and security services oppose an operation in the Gaza Strip, the major problem is that the Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, is viewed today as too “soft” and that the government must adopt a tougher attitude in order to protect Israeli interests.
In this pre-election environment, in which it is difficult for the major political parties to propose unique agendas, the campaign arena shifted into rhetorical declarations about what must be done to end the crisis in Gaza, transforming the Hamas into the real power broker in the Israeli electoral process. About this, the Israeli political system can do nothing.

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