Ramallah, Occupied West Bank - Pessimism has descended on the occupied Palestinian territories and the possibility of peace talks, following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's victory in legislative elections last week.

Netanyahu's Likud party won 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel's parliament - significantly more than pre-election opinion polls had predicted.

Now, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, after conducting talks with representatives of the ten parties elected to parliament, is expected to ask Netanyahu to form the next coalition government on Wednesday evening.

But Netanyahu's victory has been mired in controversy. On election day, he warned Jewish Israelis that Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20 percent of the population, were being bussed to the polls by "left-wing organisations" and were voting "in droves".

The statement prompted widespread criticism, even from Israel's closest ally, the United States. Since then, Netanyahu has backtracked, and issued an apology for the comment. "I know that the things I said a few days ago offended Israel's Arabs," he said on Monday. "I had no intention for this to happen. I regret this."


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This wasn't the only recent comment landing Netanyahu in hot water: A few days before the elections, the Israeli prime minister declared that a Palestinian state would not be formed under his watch.

"I think that whoever moves to establish a Palestinian state or intends to withdraw from territory is simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel," he said. "This is the genuine reality that's been created here in the past few years."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Netanyahu has shown that he is not a partner for peace, and that his re-election is a danger to a two-state solution. "What Netanyahu said wasn't electioneering - that's him," Erekat told reporters on Thursday evening.

Some politicians still have illusions that continuing down the same path of negotiations, regardless of the Israeli government elected, will bring about a different result. We need to find other alternatives to these futile talks.

Ibrahim Khreisheh, the deputy speaker of the defunct Palestinian Legislative Council

"Today the international community, and Israelis who believe in two states, must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us in order to preserve the two-state solution."

Erekat said the Palestinian leadership had taken several steps to gradually cease all security cooperation with Israel. His statement came on the heels of a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee meeting, which tasked a committee with implementing a decision made on March 5 to end security coordination with Israel.

Palestinian politicians have routinely threatened to end such coordination, but Erekat stressed that this time, the mechanisms were being put in place to do so, in reference to the aforementioned committee, and that a change could take place in a matter of weeks. 

Meanwhile, some Palestinians questioned the effectiveness of continued negotiations to achieve a solution with the Israelis.

"Some politicians still have illusions that continuing down the same path of negotiations, regardless of the Israeli government elected, will bring about a different result," said Ibrahim Khreisheh, the deputy speaker of the defunct Palestinian Legislative Council.

"We need to find other alternatives to these futile talks."

Hours before Erekat's statement, Netanyahu appeared to be walking back his earlier repudiation of the US-backed two-state solution. In an interview on MSNBC, he said he remained open to the possibility of peace talks.

"We need the conditions of recognition of a Jewish state and real security in order to have a realistic two-state solution," Netanyahu said.

"And I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable. To make it achievable, then you have to have real negotiations with people who are committed to peace."


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But the US did not seem to believe this statement was genuine. On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama said the prospects for a two-state solution were dim in light of Netanyahu's disavowal of it.

"I've said before and I'll simply repeat: Prime Minister Netanyahu, in the election run-up, stated that a Palestinian state would not occur while he was prime minister. And I took him at his word that that's what he meant," the US president said.

A day earlier, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough called Netanyahu's comments "troubling" on Monday.

Speaking at a conference in Washington, DC held by J Street, a pro-Israel group in the US that supports a two-state solution, McDonough referred to 50 years of Israeli occupation and said Netanyahu's comments "call into question his commitment to a two-state solution ... as did his suggesting that the construction of settlements has a strategic purpose and his claim that conditions in the Middle East must be more stable before a Palestinian state can be established. We cannot simply pretend that these comments were never made."

Netanyahu backtracks over election comments

Despite the unusually tough stance taken by the US, some Palestinians were not convinced that this would lead to a departure from the status quo.

"There's not a lot to be optimistic about," said Ra'ef Ezraiq, a professor of jurisprudence and a lecturer at Haifa's Carmel Academic Center.

"Israel is headed towards more settlement building, more racist laws," he argued.

"It's out of the question that a new Israeli government will offer a just solution to the conflict. Only the unity of Palestinians and international pressure can help bring about change."

The Palestinian leadership, however, does not seem to be entirely giving up the possibility of negotiations.

When election results emerged showing Netanyahu in the lead, the Palestinian president's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said the leadership would continue to work with any Israeli government that recognises "international resolutions".

Nevertheless, the Palestinian leadership said it would continue to pursue charges against Israeli politicians at the International Criminal Court, which it will formally join on April 1. 

Source: Al Jazeera