Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Likud Party won a massive victory in Israel's parliamentary elections Tuesday, as voters endorsed his hard-line approach to the Palestinian uprising and dealt the dovish Labor Party its worst defeat in history.
The prospect of progress on the Palestinian front now appears to depend on whether Sharon can form a coalition that will include the opposition Labor, which campaigned on a pledge to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
In his victory speech, Sharon called for a "unity government" and warned that "there is no cause for celebration. The battle against the terrorist organizations hasn't ended and it claims more victims every day... It's a time for soul-searching, for uniting."
Israel TV quoted Sharon as saying he would not form a right-wing government under any circumstances, although in his speech he did not offer any policy incentive to Labor.
Labor leader Amram Mitzna has ruled out joining a Likud-led government, and he reiterated that stance Tuesday after congratulating Sharon on his victory. "We will remind Sharon every day that there is an alternative, that there is another way," Mitzna stated.
Likud won 37 seats in the 120-member parliament — up from 19 seats in the outgoing Knesset, according to official results. The bloc of rightist and religious parties that support Sharon's tough attitude towards the Palestinians won 67 seats overall.
"This is a heavy blow to a peaceful settlement. The Israelis have committed a historical mistake which they and the Palestinians will regret," Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said under Sharon the situation on the ground in Palestinian areas would deteriorate further. He urged the new Israeli government to renew peace talks where they left off two years ago. Erekat added the results showed "Israelis are preparing themselves for more violence and escalation, not for a peace process."
Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, senior member of Hamas, said Sharon's re-election would mean "a continuation of Israeli violence against the Palestinians and will be met with the continuation of Palestinian resistance."
Senior Islamic Jihad official Abdallah al-Shami said his group would respond to Sharon's "crimes as we have done in the past two years." (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )