Palestinian Authority PM: Israeli power swap is ‘difference between Pepsi and Coke’

Fatah official Jibril Rajoub says election result shows Israel has ‘fallen into the swamps of fascism,’ while PA President Abbas remains officially mum on outcome of vote

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh holds a briefing with foreign press at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, November 10, 2021. (Abbas Momani/AFP)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh holds a briefing with foreign press at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, November 10, 2021. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh downplayed the significance of the election loss of Israel’s big-tent government and ascension of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies.

“The difference between the Israeli parties is the same as the difference between Pepsi and Coke,” Shtayyeh said in remarks reported Wednesday by Palestinian media. “We were under no illusions that the Israeli election would produce a partner for peace.”

He added that gains by far-right religious parties in Tuesday’s national election were “a natural result of the growing manifestations of extremism and racism in Israeli society.”

Echoing Shtayyeh’s assertion that Israel is not ready for peace, Ahmad Majdalani, a minister in the Palestinian Authority, said: “It’s the opposite, we see a campaign of incitement that began more than 15 years ago as Israel drifted toward extremism.”

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub told the Palestinian Al-Alam radio station that the election results showed the time had come for “soul-searching among the Palestinian factions” regarding relations with Israel.

He added that the outcome of the election showed Israel has “fallen into the swamps of fascism.”

As the final results of the election were tallied up, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared poised to return to the premier’s office a year and a half after his ouster. This time around, Netanyahu will be bringing with him the strengthened far-right party Religious Zionism, whose no. 2, MK Itamar Ben Gvir, ran a markedly anti-Arab platform.

Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to supporters at the party’s campaign headquarters in Jerusalem the night of the election, November 1, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The rise of Ben Gvir — who has previously been convicted of extremist incitement and whose hardline supporters often chant “death to Arabs” — has been noted with concern by many of Israel’s allies around the world.

But many Palestinian figures appeared to view the ascension of Ben Gvir from ostracized figure to likely future minister as simply more of the same in Israeli politics.

In a statement carried by the US-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group said the election results “do not carry anything new; it is a clear expression of the partisan political map in it, and it reflects the right-wing and fascist tendencies of the racist Zionist society.”

“The rise of the most racist of extremists and fascists and their progress in these elections, and their penetration into Israeli political decision-making institutions, deals a strong blow to those who bet on any peaceful solutions with the extremist Zionist entity,” the PFLP said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has not spoken publicly about the Israeli election results.

In a speech to the Arab League summit in Algeria on Wednesday, Abbas made no direct reference to the vote outcome, but urged Arab leaders to “save the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before they’re Judaized,” referring to sensitive religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. Al-Aqsa Mosque sits on the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism as the site of the biblical temples.

Member states affirmed in the summit’s final declaration the “centrality of the Palestinian cause and our absolute support for the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights,” including to an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Some Palestinians believe that a win for the far-right could help advance the Palestinian cause by inspiring backlash from Israel’s Western allies.

“It will lead to some international pressure,” said Mahmoud Nawajaa, an activist with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which calls for an economic boycott of Israel. “Netanyahu is more honest and clear about his intentions to expand settlements. The others didn’t say it, even if it was happening,” Nawajaa added.

Many Palestinians saw the reign of outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid as no better than the 12 prior years of Netanyahu control.

“In terms of violence, the Lapid government has outdone itself,” said Nour Odeh, a Palestinian political analyst and former PA spokeswoman. “As far as new settlements and de facto annexation, Lapid is Netanyahu.”

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