Palestinians fear Israeli election result could mean more violence

General elections in Israel

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta

GAZA/WEST BANK (Reuters) -The prospect of Benjamin Netanyahu returning to power at the head of one of the most right-wing coalitions in Israeli history has prompted concern among Palestinians who said they feared it was a prelude to further escalation of conflict with Israel.

Netanyahu's comeback in Tuesday's election is set against the backdrop of the deadliest spell of violence in years between Israel and the Palestinians, whose hopes of statehood appear as distant as ever with Middle East peacemaking in the doldrums.

More than 100 Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank have been killed by Israeli forces this year while a string of fatal street attacks by Palestinians has killed 20 people in Israel and Israeli settlements.

Palestinian officials in the West Bank and Gaza Strip said the ultra-nationalist complexion of Netanyahu's likely alliance, including the firebrand Itamar Ben-Gvir, who once advocated expelling Palestinians, prompted concern over further tension.

"No doubt the result of such a coalition will increase the hostile attitude towards the Palestinian people and make occupation measures more extreme," Bassam Salhe, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which has fought several wars with Israel over the last decade, predicted the results meant more potential violence.

"It is clear that the Israelis are leaning towards more extremism, which also means aggression against our people would increase," Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem told Reuters.

"Netanyahu-led governments that launched several wars against our Palestinian people, and the presence of the most extreme figures in a coalition means that we are going to face more of the Zionist terrorism," he said.

"NO PEACE"

Netanyahu has long opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has built his career around trying to negotiate peace with Israel, did not mention the election in a speech to an Arab summit on Wednesday.

But he aired his previously stated view that Israel was "systematically destroying the two-state solution", a reference to settlement expansion on territory the Palestinians seek for their state.

Negotiations stalled in 2014.

While negotiations have been at a standstill, Abbas has met Defence Minister Benny Gantz to calm tensions and coordinate security measures, and welcomed Prime Minister Yair Lapid's call in September for a two-state solution.

Reham Owda, a political analyst in Gaza, said the peace process and the Palestinian Authority, in particular, may be the prime loser of a Netanyahu comeback, given his "personal enmity with ... Abbas and his opposition to the two-state solution".

“With Netanyahu, the slogan will be, no peace, no two-state solution, more settlement and the focus will be on Iran,” she told Reuters.

In the latest West Bank violence, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian man on Wednesday after a suspected car-ramming attack at a checkpoint that left a soldier severely injured, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.

Many Palestinians, including refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, said they saw no difference between Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians when it comes to their policies towards the Palestinians.

"Certainly the situation is going to move from bad to worse. He will continue from where his predecessor left,” said Khaled Shriteh, 29, a Ramallah taxi driver. "For us, the right and left parties are the same, both are our enemies," said Jamal Mansour, a Palestinian refugee in Bourj al-Barajneh camp in Beirut.

Violence also flared in Gaza in August. At least 49 people including 17 children were killed in 56 hours of fighting that started with what Israel described as preemptive air strikes against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, which fired hundreds of missiles into Israel during the flare-up.

"The Palestinian people will get nothing from this government except war, destruction, killing, bloodshed, house demolition, razing of land and the building of more settlements at the expense of the Palestinian people," said Youssef Khattab, a TV director in Gaza.

(Additional reporting by Issam Abdallah in Beirut; Firas Makdesi and Kinda Makieh in Damascus, and Jehad Abu Shalbak and Muath Freij from Jordan Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Nick Macfie)