The return of Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party does not bode well for the prospects for a comprehensive and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. Throughout his campaign, the cornerstone of Netanyahu's policy toward the 'Palestinian Question' suggests an intention to deepen the conflict rather than solve it.
Netanyahu has stated repeatedly that he does not want to get tangled up in 'final status issues' -- the boundaries of a future Palestinian state, the rights of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements in the West Bank and water rights. These issues form the core of what must be negotiated between Palestinians and Israelis. Yet the man most likely to become Israel's next Prime Minister does not want to discuss them.
Instead, his plan for the 'economic development' of the Palestinian Territories is a euphemism for intensifying the Apartheid regime that exists there. Rather than move toward the solution that the majority of Palestinians, the United States and the international community embraces -- an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel -- Netanyahu would have the West Bank divided into disconnected Bantustans. Palestinians would be given "business projects" as compensation for the self-determination Israel has denied them for more than four decades.
Netanyahu wants to better accommodate life under occupation, not lift the occupation itself, in the hopes of pacifying Palestinians' desire for freedom and our demand for the recognition of our most basic human rights.
This has been tried many times in the past. It has always failed. A process with no prospects for peace, as was Annapolis under Olmert, is no different to Palestinians than no process and no prospects for peace under Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has also clearly stated that the occupation of Palestinian lands will increase rather than decrease during his tenure. He has promised not to build any new settlements, but to allow for the 'natural' expansion of existing ones -- so as not to 'choke them'.
According to international law, and a number of Israeli human rights organizations, there has been nothing 'natural' about settlement growth from the beginning. The population of settlements over the last two decades has grown at an average of 4-6% annually in sharp contrast to Israeli society as a whole at 1.5%. In 2008, during the ongoing Annapolis 'Peace' Process and amidst condemnation from the United States, settlement construction in the West Bank increased by 30%. If settlements continue to grow as 'naturally' as this, they will soon devour the entirety of the West Bank.
Furthermore, it is not only the settlements which constitute the occupation. By themselves, the settlers consume only 3% of the West Bank; however, the public utility and military infrastructures which unite them to the state of Israel consume over 40%. Total control of our borders and economy is compounded by 700 checkpoints and movement restrictions, a race-based regime of roads and tunnels, a massive cement Wall and barrier which is twice the length of our internationally recognized border and built almost entirely inside the West Bank, and on top of this, we play host to nearly half a million hostile ideologues who consume 80% of our water resources.
Netanyahu seems only too eager to continue 'managing' the conflict long enough to pass it onto our children and grandchildren. However, given the make-up of his likely coalition, he may not have a choice in the matter anyway.
Far-right parties such as Shas and Yisrael Beitenu have gained more strength proportionally in these elections than Likud and will surely be part of the new coalition. They call for more than 'management' of the status quo and a refusal to negotiate a solution; they offer extreme measures of their own - solutions which would be marginalized in any modern democracy. These include more disproportionate violence aimed at 'teaching Palestinians to respect their masters', more institutionalized racism within the 1948 borders, more settlements and even full-scale population transfers - a more palatable expression for ethnic cleansing.
These parties have proven their ability to collapse a government if any meaningful negotiations with Palestinians are to take place and will most likely maintain that pledge with an increased mandate in any new governing coalition.
In sum: meaningful negotiations may not even be feasible on the Israeli side; and if they are, the 'offer' from Israel will most certainly be unacceptable to any Palestinian leadership interested in viable statehood. The status quo of 'occupation with no end in sight' looks set to continue into the foreseeable future.
The result of this election will not bring us closer to a one or two-state solution; it will bring us no solution. And if we continue down this path much longer, 'no solution' will manifest itself in the death of the two-state dream and continued Apartheid for the Palestinian people.
Mustafa Barghouthi is the Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI). The opinions expressed here are his own and can be found regularly at www.palestinemonitor.org.