Jerusalem issue complicates Palestinian elections

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said an Israeli refusal to allow voting in East Jerusalem “would be a major problem” and could stop the vote from taking place entirely.
Sunday 22/12/2019
Al-Aqsa Mosque is seen in Israeli-occupied Palestinian city of Jerusalem, December 2. (AFP)
Al-Aqsa Mosque is seen in Israeli-occupied Palestinian city of Jerusalem, December 2. (AFP)

LONDON - The question of East Jerusalem has become an obstacle that threatens efforts to enable Palestinians to vote in the Palestinian territories.

This reality became more evident after Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas conditioned the first Palestinian general elections in 13 years on Israel allowing residents of East Jerusalem to participate in the vote.

“If Jerusalem residents can’t vote in the heart of the city where they live, there will not be elections,” Abbas said December 17. “We are very interested in having elections but not at any price.”

Abbas, who heads the Fatah party, said in September he would issue a decree for national elections but gave no date.

The rival Hamas movement supported the move while PA officials requested Israel permit polling stations in East Jerusalem, as the Israelis had in the 2006 parliamentary election and a presidential vote a year earlier.

However, recent statements by Abbas appear aimed mainly at Hamas, which is pressing the Palestinian president for the decree for the elections regardless of Israel’s position on allowing voting in Jerusalem.

Hamas Political Bureau Member Moussa Abu Marzook said Abbas’s decision to postpone the decree pending the Israeli position “means, in practice, that this decree may never be issued.” Hamas officials said it was possible to overcome the Israeli rejection.

However, the Palestinian Authority insists that Jerusalemites vote in the city’s post offices, as was the case in previous elections.

The Palestinian Authority directly addressed Israel, the United Nations, the European Union and other countries to allow having elections in Jerusalem, as in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The overwhelming majority of Palestinians in East Jerusalem cannot vote in national elections in Israel because Israeli law only permits citizens to cast ballots. Palestinians in East Jerusalem largely do not hold citizenship but rather permanent residency.

Israel forbids any official activity in Jerusalem by the Palestinian Authority, saying it breaches interim peace deals with the Palestinians.

An Israeli official said Israel was aware of the Palestinians’ request but “has not yet taken a position on it.”

Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they want to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Speaking at the Doha Forum in Qatar December 15, senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said an Israeli refusal to allow voting in East Jerusalem “would be a major problem” and could stop the vote from taking place entirely.

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