US brokers deal on east J'lem ballot

Olmert stipulates that Hamas would be barred from campaigning in city.

palestinian votes 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
palestinian votes 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel and the US reached a compromise regarding the Palestinian elections in Jerusalem, whereby Israel will allow eligible Palestinians to vote at east Jerusalem post offices but will ban Hamas from campaigning in the capital, senior government officials said Tuesday. The deal, according to these officials, was brokered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's top aid, Dov Weisglass. Meanwhile, senior government and security officials met Tuesday night at the Defense Ministry to discuss the implications on Israeli policy of a strong Hamas showing in the elections, planned for January 25. The US-Israeli compromise, however, comes at a time of deep divisions inside the government regarding both the policy Israel should have regarding the elections in Jerusalem and how the policy decision should be made. As an indication of that confusion, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz came out with a surprising announcement Tuesday that east Jerusalem Arabs would be able to vote at certain post offices in the upcoming elections. This announcement, which was made before Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could weigh in on the issue, reversed earlier indications that Israel would not allow this because of Hamas participation in the balloting. "The elections will be held as they were in 1996, also in east Jerusalem," Mofaz said while touring the security fence in Jerusalem. "There will be elections in east Jerusalem, whether in the five post offices that were used in 1996, or - if some of them may want - [they can] vote at other polling places in Judea and Samaria." Mofaz's comments were in stark contrast to comments Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom made at Sunday's cabinet meeting saying that the message Israel has been sending is that balloting could only take place in areas outside of Jerusalem. Later in the day the Prime Minister's Office issued a report of a conversation Olmert had with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that contradicted Mofaz's statement, saying that no final decision had yet been made on the matter and that it would come to the cabinet meeting on Sunday. Despite this, Olmert's statement made clear Israel was indeed reversing itself on this matter. Olmert said that in light of the clear commitments the PA had made to dismantle Hamas after the elections, "Israel will not give the Palestinians any excuse to postpone the election and to evade fulfilling this commitment." The Palestinians have threatened to postpone the elections if east Jerusalem Arabs could not vote in the city. Olmert told Rice the government would be asked to approve the voting "of a few hundred east Jerusalem Arabs" in post offices, as was done in Palestinian elections in 1996 and 2005. Mofaz's statement followed by a day an announcement by Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra that Israel would allow campaigning in the capital as long as terrorist organizations did not take part. "Every candidate for the Palestinian parliament can campaign as long as they are not a member of an extreme and radical gun-wielding organization," he said, articulating a policy Israeli officials said was agreed to by the US. The Jerusalem balloting decision completes a dramatic turnaround over the last four months in Israel's position on Hamas participation in the PA elections. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon charted out this policy during his visit to the United Nations in September, when he said on a number of occasions that Israel was adamantly opposed to Hamas participation in the elections. Although Israel could not stop Hamas from participating in Gaza, he said, Israel could impact matters in the West Bank and would not cooperate with the PA on the elections if Hamas took part. This was part of a diplomatic campaign Israel started as far back as the spring to keep Hamas from taking participating in the elections unless it disarmed and revoked its 1988 charter calling for Israel's destruction. However, both the United States and the European Union have called on Israel to help facilitate the upcoming elections even though they too have articulated their opposition to terrorist organizations taking part in the democratic process. They said that they would only deal with Hamas after the elections if it disarms.