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> 2013-01-23 14:53:12
Holy Land bishop hopeful after Israeli elections
(Vatican Radio) The Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem says he is hopeful that Tuesday’s elections in Israel will bring about a more centrist coalition government capable of jump-starting the peace process with Palestinians. Bishop William Shomali told Tracey McClure he also hopes that U.S. President Barack Obama will press Israel to adopt a two state solution to the deadlock.
Listen to the extended interview with Bishop Shomali :
The following is a transcript of Tracey McClure’s interview with Bishop Shomali :
Any surprises from Tuesday’s elections?
"Yes I was positively surprised because there is a real change and the electors moved towards the center. (In the last elections) it was rather the right wing, now the left won more seats than foreseen. Now we can say that the electors, the Israeli side, moved towards the center so there is more balance now between the left and right. And I hope that this will have impact also on the peace process."
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bloc lost 9 seats in parliament – down from 42 seats in the 2009 election to 31 seats today. What turned voters off and why did they turn to more centrist-leftist platform?
"I believe that the winner from these elections is a newcomer called Yair Lapid. He was a journalist; he’s young and he promised something new to improve the economy…18 months ago there were manifestations in Israel against (the) high cost of life, so economy is very important for Israelis - not only the war on Iran. So they want to improve their quality of life. He promised that and he promised also to make military draft for the ultra-Orthodox who don’t serve in the army with the excuse that they want to study more the Torah, the bible. So he promised to work on that and this is important to make more equality between citizens. And he also promised to work more seriously in the sector of peace with Palestinians. So these three reasons attracted the young people to him and what he won in terms of seats comes from the other parties, mainly Likud and Labour who are the traditional parties in Israel."
Mr. Netanyahu has been adamant that he will not dismantle Israeli settlements if re-elected. To what extent is the settlement issue of concern to Israelis?
"Because they make sure that all the land is theirs (so that) they can behave as they want with this land. It’s an ideological problem and they don’t accept (the term) we call “occupation.” So then building settlements also can prevent the (creation) of a viable Palestinian state. So it’s like a decision against the United Nations’ recognition of the Palestinian state. So it’s a political answer to the U.N."
Yair Lapid of the There is a Future party came out as the second largest party in parliament just behind Prime Minister Netanyahu. He says he wants to create a broad alliance of moderates to get Israeli policy into a more centrist position on the peace process – but, can he do it?
"Alone, Yair cannot do it because he has only 19 seats. He needs others. Now, even with all the left, with the Arab parties united, they will make sixty seats: half (the number of Knesset seats). They cannot make a government. Even Netanyahu with all the right wing, there will be only sixty (seats); he cannot make (a viable coalition) so they need to make a mixture between right and left. For this reasons, I said that the government is going to become more centrist. Now, if Lapid wants to make a government, if it happens, he needs Netanyahu. And if Netanyahu wants to make a broad government, really he needs Lapid. (Compared to) the others, Lapid is the most moderate for Netanyahu…"
There was some speculation that Arab Israelis feel disenfranchised in the political arena and that they might stay away from the ballot boxes. How important is the Arab Israeli vote?
"Yes, we heard that Arabs, they didn’t come to vote…with big masses, but anyway, they won twelve seats which is not less than before. So I can say that they are not losers. But the important thing is that they enter into coalition. Generally, Arabs are excluded from the coalitions that were done in the past. Now if the left wants to make strong government, they need the Arabs because their ideas go together better than with the right wing. But all this is really unforeseen. We cannot know what the future (holds). (There’s) a lot of speculation and we (must) wait the following weeks. It will not be easy for Netanyahu to form a government. So he needs a lot of time and really we are impatient to know the results now."
Local Arab Christians represent less than two percent of the population in the Holy Land – do they carry any political weight at all and what do they hope in terms of the peace process from a future government?
"Christians are a minority within another minority in Israel. They are a minority among Arabs and Arabs are a minority in Israel. So when someone is a double minority, he cannot be very strong. But anyway, in the end, they make (up) part of the Arab intelligentia elite and they have some influence... I know at least that there is one member of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) who won among the winners of this morning. But one among 120 is not a big deal. I believe that the importance of Arabs is what they do within the Arab coalition because they are twelve members so they can pass their ideas through them. I don’t believe that there’s a lot of difference in the Arab stand between Christians and Muslims in Israel. They think the same way and they have together run (in) the elections. So I don’t believe that there’s a Christian vote or a Christian influence but rather an Arab influence."
Regarding the settlements again – do you think that the results of this election might make Netanyahu re-think his settlement policy?
“It depends on with whom he is making a coalition. If he goes to the left, he (needs to) balance his stand and his policy. But I believe that he will continue; he promised already to continue the same policy of settlements. He said that just before the elections and even after the elections he made hints to that (effect). It is not easy to make Netanyahu change on this point.”
Bishop Shomali doubts the peace process will bear fruit in the near future though he is hopeful a more centrist parliament will put it more firmly on the agenda. But he also wants to see greater action from at least one Israeli ally.
“We hope that because the peace process is not for one month or two months, it’s for a long time ahead. So at least we feel that there is movement within the Israeli electorship moving more towards the left which was not (the case) in the last years. This is a good sign of hope even if it is not a complete hope but it gives some signals that we seize and we continue to hope and pray for peace. On another level, peace depends not only on Israelis but (also) on American pressure. So we hope that (U.S. President) Obama can keep his promises for the settlement of a two state solution – so a big part of the solution is in the hands of Obama.”