03/20/2015, 00.00
ISRAEL - PALESTINE
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For Palestinian leader, Netanyahu will pay a high price with an exclusively right-wing cabinet

For Prof Sabella the outgoing PM will have to "make concessions" to right-wing voters - who confounded pollsters and put him back into power - like more Jewish colonies in the Territories and more military operations in Gaza. The Palestinian scholar hopes the Israeli PM will "act wisely," and engage Palestinian leaders in talks. The UN, the US and Europe have a role to play.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confounded pollsters, pulling off an upset victory after a heated campaign centred on issues dear to the right. However, he will have to contend with right-wing allies who are likely to extract a "political as well as an economic price," this according to Prof Bernard Sabella, a Catholic member of Fatah and executive secretary of the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees for the Middle East Council of Churches, who spoke to AsiaNews about Israel's recent elections.

In spite of the pre-election polls, Netanyahu's Likud won a resounding victory (30 seats) against Isaac Herzog's Zionist Union (24 seats). After his victory, Netanyahu appears to have "softened" his opposition to a Palestinian state.

"I don't want a one-state solution," he told MSNBC in an interview. "I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution." He cautioned though, "circumstances have to change" for that to happen.

For Prof Sabella, Netanyahu "won the election, taking votes from the far right". Now he will have to put together a coalition government by making "concessions" to his right-wing allies if he wants to govern".

He will likely oppose Israeli President Reuven Rivlin's call for a national unity government. This, the Catholic leader said, "is not only a problem for Netanyahu, but for everyone".

New colonies, more fighting in Gaza, and confrontation with Hamas are "concessions" Prime Minister Netanyahu might have to make if he opts for an extreme right-wing government.

"It is not an easy prospect," said the Fatah representative for Jerusalem. "It is possible that relations with the Palestinian Authority might get worse, in particular, its president," Abu Mazen.

Ending negotiations and punishing the Palestinian people "will be a new source of anger" in Gaza. So much so that "we cannot rule out renewed grassroots protests."

Israel and Palestine face many "economic and social challenges," the Catholic scholar noted, with regard to "the future of young people, the vision of a democratic society, and human rights."

Any decision taken by Israel "has a political, diplomatic, economic and social price". Now, it will be important to understand the future positions "of Europe, the US and the UN."

Still, Prof Sabella hopes that Netanyahu "will act wisely", and maintain an attitude of dialogue with the Palestinian Authority, because President Abbas "is ready to talk peace."

The Israeli prime minister must however put aside "labels" that worked in an election campaign, he added. He must stop describing the other "as an enemy and not a partner for peace", fuelling "anger among Palestinians, and a desire to strike back."

"We must avoid radicalising the [various] positions. We have to look at the situation with realism and wisdom," Sabella said in concluding. "Perhaps mine is a utopian vision, but I hope Netanyahu really wants to move in the direction of peace." (DS)

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