The Palestinians have long complained that Israel's right-wing government is killing peace prospects by settling the West Bank with Jews, but now there is something new. The Palestinian president is warning Benjamin Netanyahu's expected victory in next week's election could lead to an Arab-majority country in the Holy Land that will eventually replace what is now Israel unless he pursues a more moderate path of a two-state solution to the conflict.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been careful not to intervene in Tuesday's Israeli election, but it is no secret the Palestinians hope Netanyahu will either be ousted or at least soften his position in a new term. He has shown no sign of doing so, and opinion polls showing hardline, pro-settlement parties well ahead days before the vote have led to a sense of despair among the Palestinians.
During Netanyahu's current term, the Israeli leader has pressed forward with construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan along with the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war. Abbas says he wants to set up a state in the territories that would exist peacefully next to Israel.
The international community considers settlement construction illegal or illegitimate, and the Palestinians have refused to negotiate with Netanyahu while he continues to allow settlements to be built, saying it is a sign of bad faith.
Israeli backers of creation of a Palestinian state say relinquishing control of the Palestinian territories and its residents is the only way to ensure Israel's future as a democracy with a Jewish majority.
Mohammed Ishtayeh, a top aide to Abbas, told The Associated Press on Friday his boss has been warning that won't be possible if settlement-building continues and Israel could end up with a Jewish minority ruling over an Arab majority.
He warned Israel could end up with "an apartheid-style state, similar to the one of former South Africa."
"In the long run it will be against the Israeli interests because... we Palestinians will be the majority and will struggle for equality," he said, adding Abbas repeated this message in meetings with several Israeli leaders in the past year.
Abbas "told them frankly there are Palestinians who are now calling for the one-state solution, because they no longer see the two-state solution as viable," Ishtayeh said.
Abbas's office said the Palestinian president spoke with multiple leaders in 2012 from Israel's centrist opposition, including lawmakers from the Labor, Kadima and Meretz parties, along with mayors, university professors and social activists. He said a mayor from Netanyahu's Likud Party was among them.
Labour parliamentarian Daniel Ben-Simon said he met with Abbas in Ramallah recently and was warned time is running out for a two-state solution.
"Abbas said the two-state solution benefits both nations but he warned if there is no two-state solution within the next two or three years then it won't be practical anymore," Ben-Simon said. "Abbas told me explicitly... the idea of a one-state solution is escalating among Palestinians."
Palestinian officials have been closely following the Israeli election campaign, fearing Netanyahu's ambitious plans for settlement construction over the next four years could prove lethal to their dreams of a state, Ishtayeh said. More than 500,000 Israelis already live in settlements that dot the West Bank and ring east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital.
-- The Associated Press