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Palestinians Fear Crackdown In Wake Of Sharon Victory

by N. Janardhan

on 2003 election
(IPS) DUBAI -- For many Arabs in the Middle East, the last few days have brought bad news, first from Israel and then from the United States.

First, the possibility of a Palestinian state appeared even more distant after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing Likud Party made historic gains in national elections on Tuesday.

Second, war appeared closer after President George W. Bush showed no leniency on Iraq in his State of the Union address later that day.

As the results of the Israeli polls were made official, fear of more Israeli violence gripped Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The results were particularly ominous because of the nearly two dozen Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip in Israeli assaults four days prior to the polls in which Likud doubled its seats to 37.

With Labor declining to join a national unity government and the secular Shinui party, one of the biggest gainers in the elections, still non-committal on joining, the threat of an ultra-right-wing government loomed and may have even put Israel's ties with United States and Europe on a collision course.

Those concerns were heightened by Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's refusal on Sunday to rule out reoccupying Gaza if resistance fighters continue to attack Israelis.

Palestinian chief negotiator and cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said on Wednesday: "I believe that after a government is formed in Israel, it will be moving to reoccupy the Gaza Strip."

"This is a heavy blow to a peaceful settlement. The Israelis have committed a historic mistake which they and the Palestinians will regret," Erekat said on CNN. Sharon will exploit the looming U.S.-led war on Iraq to step up actions against Palestinians, he added.

The Israeli media too admitted that the results were hardly worth cheering. According to the Maariv daily on Wednesday, "No one really expects the dawn of a new day, at most, the twilight of an old evening".

In a speech to the parliament, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said the right-wing victory means "the idea of peace has been folded in Israel and the competition between candidates is based on who is more hostile to the Palestinian brothers and Arabs in general."

According to Mohammed Khaled, a media company director in UAE, Sharon campaigned "with the belief that the more Palestinian blood he can shed, the more votes he can win."

"The future of peacemaking with the Palestinians will be shaped largely by which parties join Sharon's coalition. A government joined by ultra-nationalists could harden Sharon's already tough line against the Palestinian uprising," he said, predicting that Israel will soon be dogged by political instability that could lead to another election in two years.

The left-leaning Israeli Haaretz daily said: "With the public turning right and the collapse of the peace process, Sharon now faces the nightmare of a narrow, extremist government. He lost the respectability Labor gave him as a cover for his policies of force."

It said the new landmark lying ahead of the region is a possible war in Iraq, which might change the rules of the game and render useless any effort to move ahead with peace efforts.

This was a reference to a draft peace plan put together by diplomats of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, calling for a Palestinian state by 2005.

The mood in the Arab world was even more depressed by Bush's address that vowed to press on with efforts "to seek peace between a secure Israel and a democratic Palestine," and remaining unrelenting on Iraq.

According to Ghassan al-Jashi, an independent political analyst in the UAE, Bush's speech was an indication of Washington's determination to wage war whatever happened, "with an eye on Iraq's wealth and using its alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction as a pretext".

"Rather than find a cure for the crux of the problem in the Middle East, he is adding fuel to fire by opening another dangerous front. But as before, the speech failed to make clear how Iraq could threaten the security of Americans," he said in an interview.

Jashi added: "What he made clear, however, is that war is inevitable and the United Nations and the inspection regime are mere fig leaves."

Though Bush said Secretary of State Colin Powell would go before the UN Security Council on Feb. 5 to give evidence of Iraq's illegal weapons programmes and its ties with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network, "he was not been convincing in justifying the need for force especially when European allies Germany and France have taken a different stand", Jashi added.

Jashi added that Washington's aggressive stand and Iraq's equally tough response in threatening to go after U.S. troops in the region and implying a possible attack on Kuwait was pushing the entire region into an era of chaos and instability.

"The more war looks inevitable, the more Saddam Hussein is likely to start obstructing the inspectors," he said, arguing that this would give the United States the needed excuse for force.

"Till the alleged is proved, Arabs will not believe that there is any link between Iraq and al-Qaeda or Sept. 11 and that Saddam is a threat to American security," the analyst said. "And till a Palestinian state is born, terror, violence, war and political instability will continue."

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Albion Monitor January 29, 2003 (

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