Middle East expert analyses Israeli election

Swiss Middle East analyst Erich Gysling tells swissinfo how the Kadima Party's victory will affect the politically combustible region.

This content was published on March 29, 2006 - 12:59

Gysling was formerly foreign editor of the Swiss political weekly paper Weltwoche and diplomatic correspondent for Swiss Television.

swissinfo: Kadima has won but with fewer seats than expected. What kind of mandate does Kadima have based on the results?

Erich Gysling: A rather unclear mandate. Kadima is now forced to form a coalition – this was expected – but the many small parties to the right, some of them far to the right, might influence the formation of the new government.

Of course party leader Ehud Olmert will say it's a mandate for his policy regarding the Palestinian territories.

swissinfo: Olmert says he wants to pull back from most of the West Bank and draw Israel's final borders by 2010. Is that realistic?

E.G.: Well it's quite realistic – it's not so difficult. After all if you include all these Jewish settlements into the state of Israel, then there won't be a very strong opposition. There will be opposition, of course, from certain far-right religious groups but it's not as if hundreds of thousands of Israelis would protest.

Most Israelis are fed up with the situation and would like a clear solution and the majority I guess would agree to this not moderate but intelligent solution from the Israeli side.

swissinfo: How easy will it be for Olmert to form a coalition?

E.G.: One solution would be to form a coalition with [centre-left] Labor and then some smaller parties slightly to the left or on the progressive or liberal wing, maybe Meretz.

The other solution of course would be to form a coalition with [centre-right] Likud and parties to the right, but I don't think he will do that.

swissinfo: Turnout was lower than previous years. Why was that?

E.G.: There was no charismatic figure – this is what people certainly felt. In former times you had very charismatic personalities like Rabin or Sharon – you might agree with Sharon or not but for many Israelis he was a very charismatic figure. Now you don't have that.

Olmert is – if you put it in a negative way – an apparatchik, but I think he's a very decent politician, but what he lacks is charisma.

swissinfo: Did the election of Hamas in January have any effect on this election result? You would have thought it might have made Israeli voters more hawkish...

E.G.: I honestly thought it would have more of an effect and that Likud would win more.

Now if we calculate all the rightwing parties together, they gained. In that sense it may have had a certain influence. But what is really surprising is the bad result for Likud. I must admit that I personally thought that Likud would profit from the situation in the Palestinian territories and the victory of Hamas.

swissinfo: What does this result mean for Israeli relations with Palestinians and the various Middle East peace initiatives such as the Geneva accord?

E.G.: Well the Geneva Accord is a highly interesting and decent formula but it's just not accepted – not by the Israelis and not by the Palestinians. It's just an intellectual game.

On the other hand, Olmert said he is ready to have dialogue with Palestinians – whether that means Hamas or other groups we don't know at the moment – but at least he is willing to have a dialogue, whereas Likud before the election said they were not going to have any sort of negotiations with the Palestinians. So it's a little bit more hopeful.

To talk of peace, well this is an exaggeration. Even if there is dialogue and even if there is some sort of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, we are really very far away from all the different ideas that have been outlined during the so-called Oslo Process and all the hopes that were fostered between 1993 and 2000.

swissinfo-interview: Thomas Stephens

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