EU to Israel: Keep PA elections on schedule

Validity of the results can't be questioned for technical reasons.

palestinian votes 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
palestinian votes 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The EU has asked Israel to allow Jerusalem Arabs to vote in east Jerusalem so that the election can be held on time, the head of the EU's Election Observation Mission, Veronique De Keyser, told The Jerusalem Post. As the head of the 172-member mission, De Keyser was in Israel last week to set up the EU's mission at the request of the Palestinian Central Election Commission. De Keyser told high-level Israeli officials that they couldn't afford to allow the validity of the results to be questioned for technical reasons such as the failure of voters to get to the polls. While this applies to all Palestinian voters throughout the West Bank, there is a particular concern for east Jerusalem residents, said De Keyser, who is a member of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. "I do not play politics here. My first objective is that these elections take place in good conditions," she said as she sat in the lobby of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Among the stumbling blocks to sticking to the January 25 election date is the question of whether Israel will allow Palestinians to vote in east Jerusalem post offices, as they did in the 1996 and 2005 elections. Israel has traditionally objected to Palestinians voting in east Jerusalem in national Palestinian Authority elections out of fear that it harms Israel's claim to sovereignty in the city, but has compromised in the past by allowing Palestinians to vote in post offices. Failure to do so this time could mean the election will be delayed, a move the region can't afford, De Keyser said. She added that she had come to believe from the Palestinians that violence and disorder could break out if the election was not held on time. Palestinian politicians involved in the January 25 legislative vote want it held on schedule, said De Keyser, who met on Wednesday morning with representatives of all the candidates. She said they all agreed on this issue. "We are aware that there are some people that would like a delay. We have spoken to senior members of the PA, and they have made it quite clear to us that they believe it is absolutely vital to have these elections on time," De Keyser said. An observer in the January 2005 election, De Keyser said the presence of Hamas in the election has made it much more difficult. The EU's position has been to call on Hamas to stop the violence rather than seeking to ban it from the elections. Allowing Hamas to participate in the political process could force it to change its tactics, she said. The Israelis De Keyser met with during her visit this week were friendly, she said, and offered support on issues regarding the election, stressing that they too wanted to uphold the democratic process. "That is the good news," she said. The "bad news" is that because of Hamas, the Israelis said, Israel did not appear inclined to allow east Jerusalem Arabs to vote in Jerusalem post offices. "I said, 'This is not possible.' It would lead to a very critical situation." As she got ready to depart for a week, statements in the media that Israel might reconsider its position gave her some hope. Successful elections are an important step toward peace, De Keyser said. "We all need peace, especially at Christmas time." Aside from the issue of east Jerusalem voting, she said, it is also very important to the EU that both groups meet to negotiate the logistics of the elections. "The Israelis and the Palestinians must sit around the same table. Now there are no negotiations on the issues," she said. "This lack of negotiations is my major concern. They must try to speak to each other." Also, she said, for the elections to be successful and valid, freedom of movement must be offered to the voters and the candidates. "I have a lot of complaints from candidates on the national list that they cannot leave their districts to campaign," De Keyser said. She said she planned to return to the area at the end of the month along with 32 permanent observers to continue laying the ground for fair PA elections. The remainder of the observers would arrive a few days prior to the election, she said. US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington, DC that PA voting in east Jerusalem is "an issue that has come up periodically." "It is an issue that the Palestinians and the Israelis have worked through before and I would expect that they would work through once again," he said.