An inconclusive election in Israel, in which many feel the soul of the nation is at stake, has mesmerised the country with its almost-hourly twists and turns as politicians desperately jockey for power. Binge-watching the news is no longer the preserve of obsessives.
But for Palestinians, the deadlocked vote and its seemingly dramatic aftermath, where no party won a majority or has an obvious path to forming a governing coalition, is the equivalent of a bad show on television where you already know the ending.
Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, said the difference between the two biggest party leaders, the incumbent, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the former military general Benny Gantz was as insignificant as that between Pepsi and Coke.
He said Palestinians did not hold their breath to see who would become the next Israeli prime minister because the “competition is between two candidates who do not have any agenda to end the occupation”.
More than 2.5 million Palestinians live under Israeli military control in the occupied West Bank and 2 million more live under a blockade in the Gaza Strip. To win support from Israeli ultra-nationalists and settlers, both leaders have sold the promise that Israel will take permanent control over large sections of Palestinian territory – a move for decades considered an endgame scenario for Palestinians’ aspirations of statehood.
Gantz has long portrayed himself as a centrist and even hinted at a vague intention to come to an agreement with the Palestinians. But his broad ideology does not differ hugely from Netanyahu’s: when the Israeli prime minister pledged to annex up to a third of the occupied West Bank, Gantz accused him of stealing his policy. His criticism that Netanyahu has sided with far-right politicians, mostly refers to the impact on Israel, not Palestine.
In the West Bank town of Anata, Hassan Saleh, an 80-year-old retiree leans on his walking stick as he sits on a wooden chair. The former construction contractor plays with a Nokia phone as he waits outside his home for his son to pick him up.
He read some news on the election, he says, but has not paid much attention. Whoever wins, he scoffs, will not suddenly lift Palestinians “above the clouds”.
“Netanyahu … and even [Palestinian President] Abu Mazen – all of them are the same,” he says.
As he speaks, his son arrives. He is not hopeful either, but disagrees: “At least Netanyahu is straightforward. He at least tells you to your face. Others don’t tell you to your face and still do the same.”
In Gaza, which is geographically isolated from the West Bank and ruled by the Palestinian political and militant group Hamas, the general reaction to the election also appears to have been a shrug.
“When there was a war against Gaza in 2014, it was under the Netanyahu government, and Benny Gantz was the head of the army,” says Mahmoud Ayyad, a 22-year-old student. “They practised all forms of killing and destruction against the Palestinian people. I don’t think there is any difference between them.”
Israel and Hamas have fought multiple short battles over the past two years, leading to pressure in Israel to launch some sort of decisive military blow against the group, even after three wars failed to topple it.
Seeking to appease the hawks, Netanyahu and Gantz have both attempted to sell themselves as the candidate most ready for war. Gantz, whose campaign boasted of the hundreds of “terrorists” killed in the 2014 conflict, recently promised to bomb Gaza with “disproportionate force”. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has said there is “no choice but to enter a war”.
“I don’t care who is in charge in Israel,” says Ahmad Allam, a 27-year-old construction worker from Gaza City. Palestinians, he says, should instead focus on their own situation, where the public have not chosen their leaders for well over a decade.
“I think we should care who is in power in Palestine,” says Allam. “I am jealous of [Israelis], they get to elect a leader, and choose who they want to serve them. But we cannot.”
Even if hope is lost, some would relish the chance to see Netanyahu’s decade-long stint come to a close. The prime minister has run the most rightwing government in Israel’s history, and would leave at an especially bleak time for Palestinians.
“I know all of them are alike,” says Samira Sultan, a 37-year-old teacher in Gaza. “But a new face would make a difference in our lives.”
Originally published on https://www.theguardian.com