Uncertainty looms at Palestinian polls in Jerusalem

Israel ignores pleas to follow past precedents to allow electoral process in East Jerusalem

By Abdel-Raouf Arnavut

JERUSALEM 

The Israeli government may throw a spanner in the Palestinian election process, as it has so far refrained from responding to requests to allow citizens of East Jerusalem to cast ballots.

Palestinians are set to vote for an elected legislature on May 22 and presidential polls on July 31 after a gap of 15 years.

Besides the Palestinian Authority (PA), the international community has repeatedly requested Tel Aviv not to obstruct the electoral process in East Jerusalem, which it has been occupying since 1967.

Israel’s right-wing politicians reject Palestinian sovereignty in the city. They consider both West and East Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, a claim rejected by the Palestinians and the international community.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, PA’s Jerusalem Affairs Minister Fadi al-Hadami said that the right of Palestinian residents in Jerusalem to vote and stand as candidates is enshrined in the agreements. According to the Transitional Phase Agreement signed in Washington in 1995 between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, Palestinians are granted the right to hold elections in Jerusalem.

“We do not take permission from Israel to hold elections, but rather we ask it as an occupying power, not to obstruct our participation in the elections,” he said.

Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem took part in previous elections conducted in 1996, 2005, and 2006. They voted in six Israeli postal centers set up in the city. The votes were then sent by mail to the Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC).

The CEC says the capacity of these offices does not exceed to accommodate more than 6,300 voters on a single polling day. The rest of the voters in Jerusalem are forced to vote at polling stations set up in the city’s suburbs.

Around 350,000 Palestinians are estimated living in the occupied city, according to unofficial Palestinian estimates.

In the 2006 polls, 14 polling stations were set up in the suburbs of Jerusalem, according to the commission.

Israeli obstructions

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, a Palestinian official requesting anonymity since he is not authorized to talk to the media believes Tel Aviv will not clarify its position on elections in East Jerusalem until Israeli elections scheduled for March 23 are completed.

“What we have understood from the Israeli side as well as the international partners that have approached Israel, is that it is unlikely that a decision will be issued before the Israeli elections,” he said.

Israeli authorities have previously frustrated electoral processes in the city. Following the 2006 polls, Israel arrested the lawmakers elected in East Jerusalem on charges of being members of the Hamas resistance movement.

The elected representatives were later banished to the West Bank after a decision was made to cancel their residency in the city.

As elections in Palestine approach, concerns over the conduct of elections in Jerusalem have resurfaced. Palestinians insist that the elections should be held in East Jerusalem similar to other Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Further, since the legislative elections are scheduled on May 22, which falls on Saturday – the Shabbat or the Jewish day of rest – casts doubt on the conduct of elections in East Jerusalem since votes are cast in postal offices owned by the Israeli government.

Hatem Abdel-Qader, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council and former lawmaker, described Israel’s ambiguous position as “suspicious” and “unfortunate”.

Jerusalem is red line

“Jerusalem is a red line,” Abdel-Qader warned, adding that the least that can happen is to allow elections to take place in the city as in 2005 and 2006 through postal offices.

He said Jerusalem elections should not depend on the Israeli whims. He added that confining elections to the outskirts of the city is “unacceptable” because it implies acknowledging Israeli occupation.

“If the Israeli postal offices are closed due to the Saturday holiday on the date of the legislative elections, ballot boxes can be placed in front of the post centers,” he suggested. He said elections in the city should be conducted if it may lead to “confrontation”.

The Fatah leader asked the electoral commission to place ballot boxes in the streets to allow everyone to cast their ballots even if the occupation forces confiscate them.

“Why do not we make Jerusalem elections a battle and a clash with the occupation?” he asked.

–AA

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