Swiss Jews pin hopes for peace on Kadima

Kadima leader Ehud Olmert at his victory speech under a portrait of Ariel Sharon Keystone

As Ehud Olmert claims victory in Israel's election, Jews and Palestinians in Switzerland expect Israel to continue its unilateral approach towards its borders.

This content was published on March 29, 2006 minutes

Turnout in Tuesday's election was the lowest in Israel's history and voters turned away from conventional political parties to smaller parties. A coalition government is expected.

The Swiss foreign ministry was optimistic.

"The altered political landscape following both the Israeli and Palestinian parliamentary elections provides some hope that the two sides will choose the path of dialogue," foreign ministry spokesman, Lars Knuchel, told swissinfo.

Jewish groups and Palestinians in Switzerland were divided in their opinion.

"The results show that the Israeli people want to continue the move towards security and peace along the lines drawn by [former prime minister] Ariel Sharon," said Alfred Donath, president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities.

"I cannot speak for all Swiss Jews because they do not have a monolithic thinking about the state of Israel, but all of them want the state to find a way to get to peace ... and the result of this election will allow that."

Erich Gysling, a Swiss expert on the Middle East, agreed. "Most Israelis are fed up with the situation and would like a clear solution," he told swissinfo (see related interview).

However Pierrette Iselin from Swiss-Palestinian support group Collectif Urgence Palestine believed Olmert's Kadima party, despite appearing liberal, just wanted to continue the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

"Although [the right-wing] Likud has dropped back, what is more alarming for us is the election of Shas, a far-right party which is extremely dangerous and open in its desire to eliminate Palestinians. How influential Shas will be is worrying," she told swissinfo.

Coalition challenge

Despite winning 28 seats, Olmert's centrist Kadima Party fared worse than expected, signalling he might struggle to sustain support for his plan to impose final borders with the Palestinians by 2010 by uprooting many West Bank settlements.

"Kadima's mandate is rather unclear," said Gysling. "One solution would be to form a coalition with [centre-left] Labor and then some smaller parties on the progressive or liberal wing, maybe Meretz.

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

On Wednesday Olmert said he would seek negotiations with the Palestinians but act on his own if necessary to draw final borders.

Donath is pragmatic. "I think it's probably better to negotiate than to take a unilateral move like in Gaza. But so far there is no one to speak to.

"Olmert wants someone on the Hamas side to discuss with but first they should renounce their aim to destroy Israel and throw the Jews into the sea."

Gysling is cautiously optimistic. "Before the election Likud said they were not going to have any sort of negotiations with the Palestinians. So it's a little bit more hopeful."

As for the chances of the various Middle East peace initiatives such as the Swiss-sponsored Geneva Accord, Gysling is less positive.

"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," he said.

"To talk of peace is an exaggeration."

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

In brief

Swiss involvement in Israel and the occupied territories primarily consists of development aid for the Palestinians.

This is routed through non-governmental and other international organisations. No direct funding is given to the Palestinian Authority, apart from a subsidy to the statistical office.

The Swiss foreign ministry commended the order and the good organisation of the January parliamentary elections.

A Swiss-backed peace plan unveiled two years ago – the Geneva Initiative – has so far failed to win political support on either side.

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Key facts

Israel has 4.5 million eligible voters in a population of around 6.8 million.
Three-quarters are Jewish.
Turnout was 63.2%.

Kadima led the poll, winning 28 seats in parliament, followed by Labor with 20.
Shas gained 13 seats.
Likud dropped back to 11.

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