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Israeli Elections: Terror as Top Concern

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Israel's major offensive on Gaza has winded down; however, Israel's internal battle is heating up for the February 10th general election. Polls show Livni's Kadima party trailing behind the hawkish Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking at the Herzliya Conference on February 2nd, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that the Israeli elections are about peace, and Israel must decide whether to say yes or no to it.

The "dove of peace is sitting on the window ledge, and we can decide to open the window and let it in, with all the apprehension, or slam the window shut," she said. Israel, she continued, could become a "country of fear or a country of hope."

Unfortunately, Ms. Foreign Minister, the "dove of peace" has long been shot... by drones, F-16's and white phosphorous bombs. And if it were alive today, it would find no hills to nestle in because they've been taken away by settlements and military outposts.

The reality on the ground in the Israeli political landscape points toward the right.

"Israelis will elect Niten-ya-hu ...you can kiss peace goodbye," I was told by Ramallah-based Palestinian independent reporter Salem Thamer. Mr. Thamer has deliberately mispronounced the former Israeli Prime Minister's name Netanyahu to "Niten-ya-hu" which means in Arabic, "the stinking cheap one," reflecting on Netanyahu's hawkish attitude of grabbing Palestinian lands to place settlements on them and refusing to give up on lands occupied by Israel in 1967.

"What's worse than Niten-ya-hu is a return to Niten-ya-hu," he added.

Standing in the same conference hall in Herzliya a couple of days later, Mr. Netanyahu pledged to continue peace negotiations with the Palestinians, but said that he would focus more on developing the Palestinian economy rather than on giving territorial concessions. Mr. Netanyahu has also vowed to preserve Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

With less than a week to go before Tuesday's elections, the three main rivals, Kadima's candidate Tzipi Livni, Israel's Labor's candidate Ehud Barak, and Likud's candidate Benjamin Netanyahu are locked in fierce debate not about whether the devastating war in Gaza went too far, but whether it went far enough. According to most Israeli political experts, with the looming threat of Iran's nuclear ambitions, continuing tensions over Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, and stalled peace negotiations with the Palestinians, Israelis will be approaching the polls with security as their top concern.

Sounds familiar?

This is how Ariel Sharon became prime minister in 2001. He was elected due to Israeli insecurity caused by the violence of the Second Intifada, when then Prime Minister Ehud Barak lost control of the peace process and became a lame duck in front of Israel's right wing movement. When Sharon came into power, he also swore that Gaza settlements were as precious to him as Tel Aviv and the Negev, then changed his mind and engineered Israel's unilateral disengagement from Gaza, in fact creating the vacuum which strengthened Hamas and weakened the PLO. The rest is history.

Again from the Palestinian perspective, Israel is not only moving to the right, it is about to give prominence to a man accused of racism and fascism, Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Lieberman advocates "Palestinian transfer" and the banning of Arab political parties in Israel. It has been recently revealed that Yisrael Beiteinu's chairman Avigdor Lieberman was once a member of the outlawed far-right Kach party.

Welcome to Israel! "Kahane's successor," as has been labeled by Israel's most recognizable television anchor, Haim Yavin, will soon be coronated as kingmaker of Israel's next government since the winner of Tuesday's elections will most certainly have to form a coalition government...and if Netanyahu wins and courts Lieberman, then Israel will certainly be moving to the right...to the far, far right.

But wait a minute, my Israeli friend David Michaelis, sees it differently, "up until Thursday," he said, "I thought that Netanyahu would for sure win. But now I think that Livni will win because Lieberman will only hurt the Likud by stealing votes away from them."

This is great news, I thought to myself.

So, Salem what do you think? Livni, Barak, Netanyahu? What do you think?

"Should it matter what Palestinians think?" he fired back. "There are only about 5 million of us living in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Perhaps 'there was no such thing as Palestinians' as Golda Meir had once said. This is what the Israelis want to believe," he added.

For Palestinians: Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu... it won't matter -- "the lesser of the three evils is still evil."

Jamal Dajani produces the Mosaic Intelligence Report on Link TV