02/10/2009, 00.00
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Israeli elections: rain, uncertainty, fears of Palestinians

by Joshua Lapide
For now, turnout is higher than in the previous general elections. 20% of Israelis are unsure of how they should vote. Mahmoud Abbas says that he will collaborate with any government. But the Palestinians are afraid that victory for the right would strengthen Hamas.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) - From 7 o'clock this morning until 10 o'clock tonight, the approximately 5 million Israelis have been called to vote for a new government, in a political climate of uncertainty and under a driving rain. By just after midday, 23.5% of the citizens had voted, 3% more than in previous general elections. Political leaders have gone to vote in their respective districts, calling voters to the polls once more, braving the bad weather and promising certain victory. According to recent surveys, at least 20% of Israelis are still unsure about the value of voting. The problems of security and of the conflict with Palestinians have been at the center of the political debate, while topics like poverty and the economic crisis have gone unaddressed. In this context, the leading parties are that of Avodgor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) and the ultra-orthodox Shas. In order to win votes, Kadima and Labor, the parties more willing to talk with the Palestinians and involved in the peace process, have been making clarifications. Livni, for example, has distanced herself from the ideas of her predecessor, Ehud Olmert, about the withdrawal of hundreds of settlements from the Occupied Territories, giving the Palestinians responsibility for certain areas of Jerusalem.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Likud, who is now forecast to be the winner, has expressed openness to a governing coalition with other secular parties, but everyone knows that he will end up allying himself with the ultra-orthodox parties.

Publicly, the Palestinian Authority has not expressed any preferences, but says it hopes that the peace process may continue, given also the promises from America after the election of Barack Obama. "I don't know who will win the elections," says president Mahmoud Abbas, "but we will cooperate with any new Israeli government emerging from the elections on the basis of the bilateral accords and the international resolutions which have been adopted up to this point."

But in private, all of the Palestinians are concerned about the clear strengthening of the Israeli right, not at all inclined to dialogue, which risks in turn reinforcing Hamas in its clash with Tel Aviv.

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