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Surprise, scepticism in Palestine after Israel vote

Palestinian officials on Wednesday said that they were pleasantly surprised by the unexpected surge of moderate parties in Israel`s election.

Ramallah: Palestinian officials on Wednesday said that they were pleasantly surprised by the unexpected surge of moderate parties in Israel`s election, but doubted whether that was enough to change the Prime Minister`s hardline policies.

Negotiations on a Palestinian state have been frozen under Benjamin Netanyahu, who rejected Palestinian demands for halting construction work in Jewish settlements. Palestinians argue that constructions for Jews in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, war-won territories they want for their state, limit the scope 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 centre-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.

But Palestinians yesterday noted with concern 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 Organisation, told reporters. "You are not going to have a saviour, suddenly producing instant peace," he added.

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 US, to halt the construction of settlements.

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 authorised to discuss internal deliberations with reporters.

In response to the outcome, an Abbas-backed committee in charge of reaching out to the Israeli public was preparing a new appeal, said an activist involved in the effort.

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 of anonymity because Abbas was yet to sign off on the text.