Palestinian Authority: No elections without east Jerusalem participation

The PA requested that Israel allow east Jerusalem residents to vote in Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections. Now, Mahmoud Abbas is trying to gain as much support as possible.

PA PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas – ‘He makes threats and engages in fiery rhetoric as part of a strategy to appease the Palestinian public.’ (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
PA PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas – ‘He makes threats and engages in fiery rhetoric as part of a strategy to appease the Palestinian public.’
The Palestinian Authority has submitted an official request to Israel to allow residents of east Jerusalem to participate in new Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections, when and if they take place in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The request came as PA President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday night that several Palestinian factions, including Hamas, have positively responded to his initiative to hold long overdue elections. The last elections for the presidency took place in 2005. A year later, Palestinians voted for a new Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
Abbas announced his initiative during a speech he delivered at the United Nations General Assembly in late September. He initially talked about holding “general elections.” Later, however, Abbas and some PA officials said that the elections would be held separately for the PA presidency and the PLC. They have also reportedly agreed to hold elections for the PLO’s legislative body – the Palestine National Council (PNC).
Since his announcement, Abbas has been working to gain the backing of as many Palestinian factions as possible for the proposed elections.
The heads of the PA’s Central Elections Commission met in recent weeks with leaders of all the Palestinian factions in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of an effort to reach agreement on holding new elections for the three bodies – the PA, PLC and PNC. Egypt has also played a role in convincing the Palestinian factions not to boycott the vote.
With the exception of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and a small number of tiny Palestinian terror groups, the majority of the Palestinian factions have welcomed Abbas’s plan to hold new elections.
Hamas leaders who visited Cairo last week told Egypt that they will participate in new elections. The Hamas leaders said they and other Palestinian factions were waiting for Abbas to issue a “presidential decree” setting a date for the vote.
The Palestinian factions' positive response is believed to have caught Abbas by surprise, a Palestinian political analyst in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post. “President Abbas was not expecting Hamas to respond quickly and positively to his plan to hold new elections. The general belief here is that Abbas was not serious, from the outset, about holding new elections. We believe he called for new elections only because he had come under pressure from the Europeans and other international parties."
Another Palestinian political analyst said that Hamas’ acceptance of the proposed elections “creates a problematic situation” for Abbas, forcing him to search for any excuse not to hold the elections. “For now, it seems he may be using the issue of the participation of Arab residents of Jerusalem as an excuse to delay the elections until further notice,” the analyst explained.
Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the General Authority of Civil Affairs and member of the Fatah Central Committee, revealed that the PA “has officially requested the Israeli government to allow the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to participate in the upcoming presidential and legislative elections in accordance with the agreements signed between the PLO and Israel in 1996 and 2006.”
The PA is currently awaiting Israel’s official response, al-Sheikh said.
In the past, Israel allowed residents of east Jerusalem (who are not Israeli citizens) to participate in elections for the PA presidency and PLC. However, only a small number of Arabs cast their ballots or presented their candidacy.
The low turnout was attributed to apathy and fear that Arabs who vote in any PA election would lose their status as permanent residents of Israel – a move that would deprive them of economic, educational and health benefits they are entitled to as holders of Israeli-issued ID cards.
Although Israel has not given its official response to the PA request, Palestinian officials in Ramallah said on Tuesday that they were not optimistic.
The officials pointed out that in the past few months Israeli authorities have stepped up their crackdown on PA representatives operating in Jerusalem in violation of Israeli law.
The two most senior PA officials in the city, “governor” Adnan Gheith and minister for Jerusalem affairs, Fadi al-Hidmi, have been repeatedly detained by the Jerusalem Police in the past few months for allegedly carrying out activities on behalf of the PA inside Israel.
On Monday evening, Gheith, a resident of Silwan, was summoned to the Jerusalem Police Headquarters and served with an order that bans him from carrying out any activities on behalf of the PA in the city for the next six months.
In addition, Israeli authorities have also banned several events planned by the PA from taking place in east Jerusalem. Dozens of PA and Fatah activists from east Jerusalem have also been detained and warned not to engage in activities on behalf of the PA or any other Palestinian political organization inside the city.
Recently, Israeli authorities also banned the PA’s official television and radio stations from operating in east Jerusalem.
The ongoing Israeli clampdown on Palestinian political activists and PA officials in Jerusalem is the major reason why there is much skepticism in Ramallah concerning the participation of east Jerusalem in the upcoming elections.
“Israel has been waging war on the Palestinians in Jerusalem,” said a Fatah operative in east Jerusalem. “If the Israelis are not allowing us to hold a soccer match on the pretext that it’s sponsored by the Palestinian Authority, does anyone really believe they will allow us to participate in Palestinian elections?”
Asked if the Palestinians would agree to a proposal whereby east Jerusalem residents would be permitted to participate in the Palestinian elections only if they take place in areas controlled by the PA, a senior advisor to Abbas rejected the idea.
“We insist that the elections take place inside Jerusalem, and not in the West Bank,” the advisor said. “There’s no reason why an Arab from east Jerusalem should travel to Ramallah or Bethlehem in order to vote or run in the elections. In the past, the Palestinians in Jerusalem voted inside the city, and we are demanding that they be allowed to do so in the next elections.”
Abbas himself said in a speech at an anti-corruption conference in Ramallah on Monday night that east Jerusalem residents should be allowed to vote inside their city and not elsewhere. He said that the issue of the participation of east Jerusalem residents in the elections has become a major obstacle to holding the vote.
The PA, Abbas added, has appealed to EU state members and other countries to pressure Israel to allow the vote to take place in Jerusalem.
Abbas and several Palestinian factions have made it clear that there would be no elections without east Jerusalem participation.