The name of the game

Not much lies behind the rumor that Arab residents are planning to run for the city council election.

Pepe Alalu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Pepe Alalu
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
It could have been a real turning point on the city’s political scene, but it seems that not much lies behind the rumor that Arab residents are planning to run for the city council election.
About three weeks ago, a new Facebook page appeared under the title of an Arab list for the next municipal elections. Strangely enough, besides the title, there is nothing on the page that adds any information regarding who is standing behind the new lineup.
What’s more, all the meager information is in Hebrew, and it fails to give even one name of who is behind it.
It took only a few days for a mini-drama to take place following a statement by former deputy mayor Pepe Alalu, former head of the local Meretz list. He said that whether or not Jerusalem’s Arab residents vote in the municipal election is no business of Israelis, who should not interfere in this issue as long as the “occupation” continues.
Alalu was attacked immediately on two fronts. Some representatives of his own party apparently thought that bringing Arab residents to the polls might add voices to the leftwing list. On the other hand, right wingers criticized his statement that east Jerusalem was under occupation.
Alalu himself is not running for any position, but he still has a lot of influence on the party.
According to recent research by Dr.
Amnon Ramon of the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, which will be published next week, right after the Six Day War the Israeli authorities intended to grant Israeli citizenship to all of the city’s Arab residents and align their status with the rest of Israel’s Arabs. For reasons that remain unclear, that was not done. Instead, they were given resident status, which, perhaps indirectly, has created the current situation. As only residents but not citizens, the Arab inhabitants remain in Jerusalem even under difficult conditions (lack of housing, high costs) but feel that their voting in the elections would be official recognition of Israeli sovereignty.
On top of that, Fatah, the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas branch (which is quite active in the city) threaten residents not to vote in the election. As a result, during the past 50 years, only a few hundred Arab residents have dared to vote. Besides two episodes in the 1990s that brought two Arab residents (one of them a collaborator with Israel) to run as candidates for mayor (and didn’t make any change), things have not progressed in regard to having more Arabs vote in the elections.
While, off the record, more and more Arabs admit that boycotting elections doesn’t serve their interest, to say the least, the quasi-majority of the 325,000 Arab residents continue to obey the instructions of their leadership and don’t vote.
In a totally different situation are the Israeli Arabs who moved to Jerusalem from the North. Most of them hold high professional positions and are not influenced by the threats of the Palestinian Authority. Alalu says there shouldn’t be any confusion between the two sectors, and he attacks those – including in his own party – who believe that the capital’s Arab residents should be convinced to vote, even if they don’t have Israeli citizenship.
“This is wrong. They are under occupation. Why should they vote for the city council? I am against that, even if it could bring Meretz more votes,” Alalu stresses.
For the moment, no one knows exactly who stands behind the initiative of an Arab list for the next city council (with an election scheduled for October 2018), but the buzz is loud and clear: What will happen if, against all odds, Arab residents finally decide to go to the polls and vote for a local Arab list (regardless of which political Palestinian organization stands behind it)? According to the lowest expectations, that could give the Arab residents about 10 seats among the council’s 31. A shake-up in Jerusalem affairs? At least – if not a tsunami.
What is interesting is that activists from both the left and right wings are stirring the pot – with close to zero results. But things can change. The process of “Israelization” is running like wildfire among the young-adult generation in the Arab sector, in tandem with threats of terrorist activity by Hamas.
Which side will prevail in the end? It is too soon to say, but the issue of Arabs voting in the 2018 city council election seems to be getting more thrilling by the day.