Many see the outcome as a given, with Ariel Sharon's successor Ehud Olhmert  slated to win, and consider the front-running Israeli parties to be essentially two sides of the same coin.

 

Abu Diyab Abu al-Awf, 72, lives in the al-Bureij refugee camp in eastern Gaza. "Each of the candidates is worse than the next as far as Palestinians are concerned," he said. "The only difference is, some are stronger and make certain pragmatic decisions, and some don't."

 

But ultimately, Abu al-Awf believes, "none has the interests of the Palestinians, or of a just peace, in mind".  

 

Rami al-Mugheiri, 31, said: "Past experience has taught us not to expect much from Israeli elections. Whatever leader will come to power, the most we will get is tough lengthy negotiations that mainly concentrate on marginal issues."

 

By way of example, al-Mugheiri referred to the elections in 2000, when Israelis voted Ehud Barak's Labour party into power. Barak was "nevertheless intransigent regarding the Palestinians' right to return, Jerusalem, and continued settlement expansion", during the Camp David talks.

 

'No difference'

 

A recent poll by Near East Consulting found that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians believe that it makes no difference who wins the Israeli elections for future Palestinian-Israeli relations. Additionally, 56 per cent of Palestinians believe that all Israeli parties are the same when it comes to the likelihood of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians

 

Saeed Abo Salah, 40, is a farmer from the village of Bait Hanun in northern Gaza. "I am not a Hamas supporter," he said. "But let me say this: we've given enough concessions - a whole decade of concessions - free, and what did we get in return?"

 

And that, Abo Salah points out, was in dealing with supposedly left-wing Israeli governments. "So why should the upcoming governments be any different?" 

 

"Why should it matter who wins?"

Umayma Nabaheeni,
graduate student

Palestinians believe that any new Israeli government, even a Kadima-Labour coalition, will inevitably continue the policy of unilateralism established by Sharon. That would make a negotiated settlement and a Palestinian state impossible, they say.

 

Umayma Nabaheeni, a graduate student in Gaza City's Islamic University, said that the Israelis "see no partner" in the Palestinians. "Even before Hamas came to power that was their mantra," she said.

 

"They are annexing our land in the West Bank, drawing their own borders, isolating our towns and holy places. They have put the blinders on and act as if we don't exist. They have their own plan in mind, and it doesn't include our rights. So why should it matter who wins?"

 

As part of its platform, the Kadima party has vowed to keep Jerusalem and large settlement blocs in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law, under Israeli control.

 

Outlandish elections   

 

Suleiman Abu Said, a political analyst, said the elections are not irrelevant to Palestinians, rather the loss of interest is attributable to the Palestinians' preoccupation with their "harsh realities and daily living", which have rendered the elections outlandish to them.

 

Palestinians "don't have the mental equanimity to really pay attention to the Israeli elections, knowing beforehand that nothing positive would come out of them", Abu Saif said.

 

Palestinians, he said, "are convinced that there is no qualitative or real difference between Israeli political parties", which they see as vying with each other to torment Palestinians, deny them their rights, and steal their land. "So the bulk of the Palestinians do not think there is anything worthwhile that can be expected from the Israeli elections."

 

Imposed solutions

 

Hamas legislators have echoed similar opinions, saying that even the most left-leaning of Israeli governments has never truly negotiated, but rather imposed solutions upon Palestinian governments.

 

Atif Udwan, a Hamas MP and minister of state-designate, said: "The Israeli governments of the last decade did not negotiate with us. Rather, they imposed ideas on us that we accepted. But the next government won't accept such policies and the Israeli way of dealing with the government.

 

"We consider the ball to be in the Israeli playing field - and we don't anticipate that they will kick it our way, no matter who wins."