Palestinians should run for mayor of Jerusalem, city council - opinion

The goal should aim to model the haredim in Jerusalem and to have power, control of portfolios and the reallocation of budgets that they already pay for with their local taxes.

 PALESTINIAN RESIDENTIAL buildings and a mosque are seen past Israel’s separation wall, which surrounds the Shuafat refugee camp in east Jerusalem.  (photo credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)
PALESTINIAN RESIDENTIAL buildings and a mosque are seen past Israel’s separation wall, which surrounds the Shuafat refugee camp in east Jerusalem.
(photo credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)

In October 2023, elections will be held in all of Israel’s local municipalities, including Jerusalem. Once in five years there is an opportunity for residents of every village, town and city in Israel to influence matters that concern their daily lives. This is especially true in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. For Palestinians, Al Quds a-Sharif (arabic reference for Holy Jerusalem) is the capital of Palestine. Palestinians number almost 40% of the residents of the city. Palestinians have been struggling to preserve the Palestinian character of the city for more than fifty years. They have struggled to keep their homes and to protect their basic human right to live in their own city.

Israel’s improper implementation of the Oslo Accords prevented the Palestinian Authority from working in Jerusalem and, in contravention of the promise that Israel made to Norway, Israel has prevented the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) from having any authority in Jerusalem. We have not achieved a permanent status agreement between the two sides and Jerusalem remains a disputed city, divided between two peoples.

Palestinians in Jerusalem are not allowed to be citizens of Palestine and Israel threatens them every day in many ways, including their basic right to live in their city. Over more than fifty years, thousands of Palestinians have been forced out of the city. Palestinians in Jerusalem are forced to pay taxes to the municipality of Jerusalem, but the services they receive are far from equal from what the Israeli Jerusalemites receive.

There is almost no town planning for Palestinians; therefore, almost all new homes in Palestinian neighborhoods are designated as illegal. Palestinian children in Jerusalem are lacking thousands of classrooms and many either drop out, try to find work, end up in a life of crime or are pulled into Islamic schools supported by the Liberation Party (Hizb ut-Tahrir) or Hamas.

For more than 50 years, Palestinians in Jerusalem have observed the PLO boycott of Jerusalem municipal elections, not participating in the decision making of daily life that affects their rights and quality of life. Palestinians do not recognize Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. Jerusalem will always be part of the Palestinian people’s struggle for liberation, independence and self-determination, including Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

 A VIEW OF the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) A VIEW OF the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The boycott of elections has not contributed to advancing Palestinian rights in Jerusalem and it is time to try something new. The dangers of losing Jerusalem are too much for Palestinians not to try now. Participating in local elections in Jerusalem does not mean recognizing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. It is important to emphasize that Palestinians are not giving up their rights as Palestinians by voting in Jerusalem, rather they are using their rights and expressing their loyalty to Palestine.

There are 31 seats in the Jerusalem City Council, including for mayor. The largest faction in the current council is Awakening Jerusalem, with 7 seats. In the last elections, they received 46,310 votes. There are about 200,000 Palestinians above the age of 18 who have the right to vote in the Jerusalem elections. Three Jewish religious parties control the city council and they received 102,068 votes. They ensure enormous benefits for their supporters.

More importantly, in local elections, mayors are elected directly by the voters. In the last Jerusalem elections, there was a runoff between the two leading candidates, Moshe Lion and Ofer Berkovitch. Lion won in the second round by a mere 3,765 votes. If Palestinians in relatively large numbers were to participate in the Jerusalem elections, they could have the determining votes in deciding who will be mayor of Jerusalem. If Palestinians in Jerusalem voted, in the two-week period before the second round they could easily negotiate a deal that would provide them with the kind of benefits that the Jewish religious populations in Jerusalem succeed in receiving. They would be the determining votes for the elected mayor and the payoff could be huge.

I PROPOSE, as I did in 2018 and in many elections since 1992 that Palestinians put forth a candidate for the position of mayor as well as a list for the city council. According to Israeli law, a Palestinian resident who is not a citizen of Israel cannot run for mayor. The goal of running a candidate for mayor is to challenge this unjust law and to demonstrate to the world the hypocrisy of the Israeli law governing illegally annexed east Jerusalem.

Palestinian non-citizen residents of the city can run for city council but they cannot be mayor in the city of their birth. Another goal of this campaign would be to take Israel to court and to focus international attention on the false claim of genuine democracy in Israel, especially in Jerusalem.

The goal should aim to model the haredim in Jerusalem and to have power, control of portfolios and the reallocation of budgets that they already pay for with their local taxes. The running of a Palestinian list and candidate for mayor of Jerusalem will bring the occupation of east Jerusalem debate into the open, the injustices, and the divisions that exist into the municipality, and address these issues among others. Important issues include the cancellation of Palestinians’ residence in Jerusalem, the negligence of neighborhoods like Kufr Aqab and Shuafat refugee camp, and the high property taxes where no services are offered.

Now, it is time to take action and organize. The political debates in the Palestinian national movements need to take place now. Organization at the national level and grassroots level needs to begin immediately. One year and eight months from now, the elections will take place. Jerusalem is the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and without solutions for the situation in Jerusalem, there will be no solution to the conflict.

It is essential that Palestinians in Jerusalem become empowered to play their role in their own future. After Gaza City, Jerusalem is the largest Palestinian city. It is time for the Palestinians in Jerusalem to have a voice.

The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. Currently, he is directing The Holy Land Bond.