PA warns against voting in Jerusalem elections

Announcement comes as some Arab Jerusalemites milling taking part in vote.

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
November 4, 2008 23:29
2 minute read.
East Jerusalem Arabs vote 298.88

East Jerusalem Arabs vote. (photo credit: Channel 1 [file])

 
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The Palestinian Authority told Arab residents of east Jerusalem on Tuesday not to vote in next week's municipal elections and said that those who defied the boycott order would face punishment. The announcement came as some Arabs Jerusalemites have been mulling taking part in the vote in an effort to get improved city services. "We call on all [Arab] residents of Jerusalem not to take part in the elections, because these elections are not acceptable and they are illegal," PA President Mahmoud Abbas's chief of staff, Rafiq Husseini, said at a Ramallah press conference. The PA would stop Arabs living in east Jerusalem from voting "by all means," Husseini said. One-third of the capital's 750,000 residents are Arabs, but 95 percent typically don't vote in municipal elections, because they believe that recognizes Israel's sovereignty over the city. This year, however, mayoral candidate Arkadi Gaydamak has been courting the Arab vote in an attempt to shake up the race by garnering tens of thousands of first-time voters. Gaydamak has taken out advertisements in Arab newspapers, met with senior Muslim religious leaders and even attended a Palestinian soccer game alongside PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. Gaydamak stands to get just 4% of the Jewish vote, according to polls. PA Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Adnan Husseini said Tuesday there had been "no change" in the Palestinian boycott of Jerusalem elections. "Jerusalem is not a municipal problem but a political one," Husseini said in a telephone interview. Husseini said he "could not understand" why some Muslim religious leaders had met with Gaydamak and that "everyone had his own position on the issue." Nearly 530,000 Jerusalemites are eligible to vote in November 11's elections, according to figures released on Tuesday by the Interior Ministry. In the last municipal elections, in 2003, just over 180,000 people, or 38%, of the eligible voters, voted; 169,000 were Jews, among whom the turnout rate was 51%. The Arab boycotts leaves them with no representation at city hall or on the city council, and therefore no influence on municipal planning and funding decisions. Also on Tuesday, the mukhtar of the Sur Bahir neighborhood changed his mind and said he would only take part in the municipal vote if a mayoral candidate promised to cancel all city demolition orders for homes built illegally in east Jerusalem. "Residents of east Jerusalem will not vote free of charge," Hamdan said. "We have our conditions, too." He said his decision would influence 13,000 residents of east Jerusalem. Hamdan had previously announced that he was running in the upcoming municipal election. The mukhtar, who maintains close ties with Israel, was seriously wounded in a Palestinian assassination attempt on his life seven years ago after voicing stinging criticism of Yasser Arafat and his PA.

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