East J'lem vote to be discussed with US

Official in PM's Office said Monday that Israel's position may be reexamined.

eu  monitors 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
eu monitors 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Israel's final decision on whether east Jerusalem Arabs will be allowed to vote in the capital during the upcoming Palestinian Authority elections is unlikely until after it is discussed with two ranking US officials, a senior diplomatic source said Monday. Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser, and David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, are scheduled to arrive Thursday for discussions with both Israeli and PA officials about the upcoming elections. Israel has in recent weeks sent different signals regarding whether it would allow east Jerusalem Arabs to vote in post offices in the capital, as was done in 2005 and 1996. While three weeks ago, Israeli officials told Veronique de Keyser, head of the EU delegation here to observe the elections, that Israel might not allow the voting were Hamas allowed to participate, a week later senior officials reversed their statements and said the inclination was to allow the balloting to take place. A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office reaffirmed Monday that Israel's position was that east Jerusalem Arabs should not be able to vote in the capital, but that this position may be reexamined. US officials, when asked their position, have routinely avoided giving a direct answer, choosing instead to reply that the US wanted to see free and fair elections take place on time. The Europeans, however, have been a bit more adamant, with de Keyser telling The Jerusalem Post last month that the EU has asked Israel to let east Jerusalem Arabs vote. The Quartet - the US, EU, Russia and the UN - issued a statement on the elections last Wednesday, with the last sentence of the four-paragraph statement stating "both parties should work to put in place a mechanism to allow Palestinians resident in Jerusalem to exercise their legitimate democratic rights, in conformity with existing precedent." At the same time, the statement also said - in an obvious reference to Hamas's participation in the elections - that "ultimately those who want to be part of the political process should not engage in armed group or militia activities, for there is a fundamental contradiction between such activities and the building of a democratic state." "In this regard," the statement read, "the Quartet calls on all participants to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and disarm." The issue about voting in east Jerusalem is largely symbolic, since only 1,200 east Jerusalem Arabs voted in the post offices in the 2005 PA chairmanship election. Nevertheless, Israel has argued that it was absurd to ask it to let east Jerusalem Arabs vote in the capital when one of the parties on the ballot calls for Israel's destruction. PA officials have said repeatedly over the last few weeks that if Israel does not allow voting in east Jerusalem, the elections would not be held on time - a move interpreted by some as an attempt by the PA to use Israel as an excuse for postponing the elections that Chairman Mahmoud Abbas does not want to be held now in any event. On Monday, Abbas said for the first time that he would postpone the elections were Israel to ban voting in Jerusalem. "We all agree that Jerusalem should be included in the elections," Abbas said in Doha, Qatar. "If it is not included, all the factions agree there should be no elections." One senior diplomatic official said that being blamed by the PA for postponing the elections should not be a factor in Israel's decision regarding balloting in Jerusalem, since if it were not the elections in Jerusalem, the PA would find another excuse - such as the "no-go" zone in Gaza - for which to blame Israel for a postponement. "They don't need this issue to hang the postponement on us," the official said. "They could always find another." He also said that Israel does not have a position whether it would be better for the elections to be held on time or postponed. "Abu Mazen [Abbas] hasn't made a strategic decision to dismantle Hamas up until now, so there is no reason to think he would do so were the elections postponed for another couple of months," he said.