EU, PA slam east J'lem vote compromise

Post exclusive: Officials say measure won't provide fair environment.

pa elections 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
pa elections 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The logistics provided by the Israeli government to allow residents of Jerusalem to vote in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections will not provide a "free and fair" environment, European Union monitors and Palestinian Authority election officials told The Jerusalem Post just a week before the elections are set to take place. Though the cabinet approved a measure allowing Palestinian Jerusalemites to vote in Wednesday's PLC elections in five east Jerusalem post offices, the exact arrangement for how the vote will proceed in the city has yet to be finalized. "The devil is in the details," Veronique De Keyser, chief observer for the elections, told The Jerusalem Post. "But surely if the political issues can be worked out, so too can the technical ones." Lack of secrecy, lack of space to accommodate enough voters and intimidation - even if unintentional - by Israeli security personnel are all problems that have yet to be addressed, PA Central Elections Committee chief officer Ammar Dwaik told the Post. "The [provisions] are inadequate; if they remain the way they are, they will not provide for free and fair elections." The main problem, according to Dwaik and confirmed by De Keyser, was the issue of privacy. In previous PA elections, voters did not have a screen or booths set up in the post offices that allowed them to mark their ballots without being observed by Israeli postal or security officials. "Every time they vote in Jerusalem, they have the same claims. But we are in the middle of working on the preparations for the elections now," said Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby. As of press time, Israeli and PA negotiators were in the Crown Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem attempting to reconcile their positions on the logistics of the vote, both sides said. Once Jerusalem police are given directives from the politicians, they will plan accordingly, Ben-Ruby said. The specifics of the Election Day arrangement will likely be announced Monday. Among the other concerns voiced by the PA and EU monitors was the impossibility of accommodating 100,000 eligible voters in the five post offices. Dwaik said Israeli officials had told him the size of those venues would allow only some 5,000 people to vote. De Keyser added that Palestinians might also feel intimidated by checking in with Israeli officials. "Giving a Palestinian ID to an Israeli official is a problem," she said, "not because the Israeli will do anything with it, but because many people will be scared of them and won't dare vote." The presence of Israeli security personnel and surveillance cameras affixed in some of the post offices will deter many voters from participating, Dwaik said, citing a similar phenomenon in the 1996 elections. "People in Jerusalem are concerned about their IDs and status as Jerusalem citizens, and there are rumors about penalties against those who participate in the elections," he said. Meanwhile, Jerusalem police detained seven activists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, including the group's Jerusalem head, who had gathered in an east Jerusalem hotel to hold a press conference about the upcoming elections, police said. Several of the suspects resisted arrest and police had to use force to take them into custody, Ben-Ruby said. The detained PFLP Jerusalem leader, Abdel Latif Shehadeh, is No. 10 on the group's national list. Israel has forbidden all terror organizations to campaign in east Jerusalem. Police have carried out a series of raids against such gatherings over the last week, but candidates from various parties continue to campaign in the city. The relatively small PFLP was behind several deadly attacks in recent years, including the assassination of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi in 2001.