Elections 2015

Now interested in vote, Palestinians divided over whom to root for

Hamas wants Netanyahu to stay, some in the PA want a Herzog win, and the Arab media can’t get enough of the tight race

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

A Palestinian street vendor sells olive oil in front of campaign posters for Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party on March 10, 201, in Givat Zeev, a West Bank settlement north of Jerusalem. (AFP/MENAHEM KAHANA)
A Palestinian street vendor sells olive oil in front of campaign posters for Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party on March 10, 201, in Givat Zeev, a West Bank settlement north of Jerusalem. (AFP/MENAHEM KAHANA)

Shortly after 7 a.m., my cellphone begins to ring. It’s a blocked number. A Palestinian official wants to hear about the latest political developments in Israel.

For the Palestinian Authority as well as Israel, Tuesday is a decisive day.

In the past 48 hours, the Palestinian public has become interested in the Israeli elections. Perhaps the possibility of a revolution has shaken everyone out of their complacency.

Decision-makers and the media in the Arab world have expressed endless interest in the smallest details about the election, including the anticipated nightmare of coalition-building, the possibility of a unity government, and what some in the Arab world perceive will become a deadlocked government.

One of the most prominent examples Tuesday morning is an article on the website of the Saudi satellite channel Al-Arabiya, which highlighted Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog’s Egyptian heritage.

“The Egyptian figure threatening Netanyahu in the election,” the headline reads, referencing Ora Herzog, the prime ministerial hopeful’s mother who was born in the Egyptian city of Ismailia.

Al-Arabiya reports that Ora’s family was exiled to Ismailia in 1915 when the country was under Ottoman rule, where it resided for many years and where she was born in 1924. She studied in a French school in the city, and learned Egyptian Arabic. The article proceeds to elaborate on the accomplishments of the Herzog family, likening it to the Kennedys, and Herzog is featured in a number of flattering photos.

But the interest does not end there. Al-Jazeera, its Qatari competitor, deals with the elections at length, as well as on remarks Netanyahu made on Monday nixing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Al-Jazeera has a number of special broadcasts scheduled throughout the day for the Israeli election. Three satellite trucks have been set up nationwide and at 10 p.m., said Walid al-Omri, the head of the Al-Jazeera office in Israel, there will be live broadcasts from the Likud, Zionist Union, and Joint (Arab) List headquarters.

Netanyahu’s remarks against a Palestinian state have also roused the Palestinian chief negotiator from his slumber. Up until Monday, Saeb Erekat kept up a suspicious silence, but last night, he could no longer hold back and attacked the prime minister for his statements.

Among the Palestinian leadership, there is no consensus on who the “ideal” Israeli prime minister is for them.

Hamas wants a Netanyahu victory, since any peace talks between the PA and Israel will compromise the group’s political standing.

Even many Fatah officials prefer a Netanyahu win, since in their eyes it will help the diplomatic fight against Israel. A Herzog victory and a narrow coalition cannot lead to dramatic change on the Palestinian front, they maintain, and certainly a unity government between Likud and the Zionist Union will not change the current situation at all.

However, no small number of Palestinian officials say they are hopeful that Herzog will be able to form a coalition with the backing of the Joint List, expected to be the third-largest party.

Egypt and Jordan have adopted a slightly different position. They have learned to deal with Netanyahu during the past months, but the lack of a diplomatic process with the Palestinians and Netanyahu’s latest comments have made it clear to them that if a right-wing government should be established, there will be no quiet on the Palestinian front.

Cairo also doesn’t like the conciliatory policies of Netanyahu toward the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.

The main headline of the Palestinian Ma’an news agency Tuesday morning is on the election. The editor of the website, Nasser Laham, said there is immense interest in the election, including among the Palestinians. Everyone, without exception, is “against Netanyahu,” he said.

“It’s not true that people are not interested. They want change. Netanyahu has become more hated than [Ariel] Sharon, who until now was the most hated Israeli prime minister. Social media is full of posts about elections,” he said. “The TV stations, radio. Every broadcasting truck has been used in the past days to cover the elections. Everyone wants Netanyahu to fall, even Hamas.”

The moderate Arab states’ concern about a right-wing government in Israel is no secret.

Officials in Amman, Riyadh, UAE, Cairo and Ramallah believe that a Netanyahu-Bennett-Liberman government would make more conflict with the Palestinians unavoidable, leading to an eventual deterioration of ties with Israel.

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