Palestinian surprise, skepticism after Israel vote

Associated Press
Relatives and friends of Palestinian Lubna Hanash mourn during her funeral in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. Israeli soldiers shot and killed Lubna near the West Bank town of Hebron, said Kamil Hmaid, the Palestinian governor of the Hebron district. The Israeli military said soldiers were attacked with firebombs and fired back. The 22-year-old woman was driving in a car when she was shot, and Hmaid said two others were injured. He denied that the car's passengers lobbed firebombs. Also Wednesday, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy died of his wounds after being shot to the head in a skirmish with Israeli soldiers on Friday. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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Relatives and friends of Palestinian Lubna Hanash mourn during her funeral in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. Israeli soldiers shot and killed Lubna near the West Bank town of Hebron, said Kamil Hmaid, the Palestinian governor of the Hebron district. The Israeli military said soldiers were attacked with firebombs and fired back. The 22-year-old woman was driving in a car when she was shot, and Hmaid said two others were injured. He denied that the car's passengers lobbed firebombs. Also Wednesday, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy died of his wounds after being shot to the head in a skirmish with Israeli soldiers on Friday. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian officials said Wednesday they were pleasantly surprised by the unexpected surge of moderate parties in Israel's election, but doubt it's enough to change the prime minister's hard-line policies.

Negotiations on a Palestinian state have been frozen under Benjamin Netanyahu, who rejects Palestinian demands for halting building in Jewish settlements. Palestinians argue that construction for Jews in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, war-won territories they want for their state, pre-empts the outcome of negotiations.

Netanyahu is likely to retain his job after Tuesday's vote, but he suffered a blow when his Likud-Yisrael Beitenu bloc and other parties in the hawkish camp lost seats to center-left factions, creating a 60-60 tie in the 120-member parliament.

As leader of the largest party, Netanyahu is expected to get the first chance to form a coalition, but in almost any scenario will have to include Yesh Atid, the new centrist party of former TV anchor Yair Lapid.

Palestinians noted with concern Wednesday that Lapid wants Israel to keep east Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital.

"I am not going to say that now the chances of peace are going to be drastically improved or that we are going to see a sort of left-wing coalition and a peace camp that will take over and produce instant peace," Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official with the Palestine Liberation Organization, told reporters Wednesday. "You are not going to have a savior, suddenly producing instant peace."

A day after the Israeli vote, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was withholding comment, and his aides said they were studying the political fallout.

One adviser said there was some hope that a politically weakened Netanyahu would become more vulnerable to international pressure, particularly from the U.S., to halt settlement building.

Others argued that a more moderate coalition would simply be a fig leaf for Netanyahu's policies, said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations with reporters.

In response to the outcome, an Abbas-backed committee in charge of reaching out to the Israeli public prepared a new appeal, said an activist involved in the effort. The committee of officials from the PLO and Abbas' Fatah movement was set up in December.

In coming days, the committee will send a public letter to the new Israeli legislators and the Israeli media, reassuring Israelis that the Palestinians are a partner for peace and that a peace deal is in the interest of both sides, said the activist, who spoke on condition because Abbas has not yet signed off on the text.

Opinion polls in Israel have indicated a majority for a partition deal. At the same time, many Israelis fear the Palestinians would not hold up their end in such an agreement, in part because the Islamic militant Hamas remains in control of Gaza. Hamas seized the territory in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew, turning it into a launching pad for rocket attacks on Israel.

Also Wednesday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a woman near the West Bank town of Hebron, said Kamil Hmaid, the Palestinian governor of the Hebron district. The Israeli military said soldiers were attacked with firebombs and fired back.

The 22-year-old woman was driving in a car when she was shot, and Hmaid said two others were injured. He denied that the car's passengers threw firebombs.

The military acknowledged that Palestinians were injured but did not confirm the woman's death.

Also Wednesday, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy died of his wounds after being shot to the head in a skirmish with Israeli soldiers on Friday.

The usually quiet West Bank has seen an increase in deadly violence in recent weeks.

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Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah and Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem contributed reporting.

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