Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The issue of East Jerusalem in the Palestinian Authority elections


The elections to the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority this May once again place Israel and the Palestinian Authority in a position of debate and confrontation over one of the sensitive issues that has accompanied their relationship for years: the status and future of East Jerusalem residents and territories.

At the center of the conflict this time is the question: Can the residents of East Jerusalem, who have lived under Israeli sovereignty for 53 years and do not belong to the Palestinian Authority, also be able to participate in these elections on the assumption that they will take place?

The historical precedents for the participation of East Jerusalem residents in the Palestinian Authority elections already exist. They are similar, but also not similar to the reality today. They are similar to the fact that in 1996, 2005 and 2006, thousands of East Jerusalem residents had already exercised their right to vote, with the consent of Israel, and participated in such and other restrictive conditions in the Palestinian Authority elections. They are not similar, because the possibility that the Arabs of East Jerusalem will once again participate in such elections comes at a time of a different and different political reality. From Israel’s point of view, East Jerusalem’s Arab participation in the Palestinian Authority elections could fade and undermine the achievement of American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel during the Trump era, a recognition that the current administration, at least for now, has not objected to.

The Palestinians’ perspective is the opposite: The participation of the Arabs of the East City in the Palestinian Authority elections is interpreted as a necessary, almost necessary retaliation and a necessary move and balance for the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem and the American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The elections in East Jerusalem as an escape route?

Within the Palestinian arena itself, there are differing assessments as to the real role played by the Palestinian Authority’s demand for the participation of East Jerusalemites in these elections.

Until a few weeks ago, many commentators tended to assume that if Abu Mazen realized that he was facing a loss and that Hamas was about to seize power not only in Gaza but also in Judea and Samaria, he would use the Israeli refusal to allow East Jerusalem Arabs to participate in elections. , There will be no elections at all. But this assessment seems to have been too hasty. It is not just Hamas that is pressuring Abu Mazen to hold the elections at almost any cost and striving to reach an understanding with him on the matter. In principle, both the EU and the new administration in Washington view them positively.

President Biden’s associates have already conveyed to Abu Mazen the expectations of President and Secretary of State Blink. They made it clear to the Palestinians that the Biden administration would consider whether and how many efforts to invest in the Palestinian issue, if not convinced that Abbas and his government had legitimacy and public support to represent the Palestinians, and that this required a transparent and supervised democratic process. Even more decisive messages came from Europe as well. EU countries, which transfer funds to the Palestinian Authority, also demand that Abu Mazen hold elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In the Palestinian Authority itself, it seems that the “horses” have, to a large extent, “already escaped from the stable.” Even if Abu Mazen released his election statement only as an experimental balloon, or as a statement intended to please the international community, without really intending to implement it, now, it is harder to turn the wheel back.

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub, a former head of the Preventive Security Service in the West Bank, made it clear a few days ago that the Palestinian Authority sought to coordinate with Hamas on the Jerusalem issue as well, and that East Jerusalem candidates for the Palestinian Legislative Council could be agreed in advance. Rajoub declared that the residents of East Jerusalem would participate in the elections even if Israel opposed it. The Palestinian Central Election Commission has already announced that Palestinians from East Jerusalem who carry a blue ID card will be able to run in the elections and vote in them without registering in the voter register.

One recent poll conducted by Dr. Khalil Shakaki found that 66 percent of PA residents believe that PA elections should be held, even if for some reason the city’s eastern Arabs do not take part. Such a public atmosphere makes it difficult for Abu Mazen to withdraw from his plan to hold elections, even on the pretext that East Jerusalem is not inside.

Nevertheless, Abu Mazen, in the terminology he uses, hints that he will not give up his demand for the integration of East Jerusalem in the elections. “We will not hold elections without Jerusalem being in the heart. We were all residents of Jerusalem and will vote from the heart of East Jerusalem, “the Palestinian Authority chairman clarified. Do these things indicate that this time Abu Mazen will reject solutions in the style of voting of the residents of the east of the city in post offices, as was the case in the past? Will he insist on placing polling stations in all East Jerusalem neighborhoods?

Hamas, which “smells” the possibility of victory in the West Bank as well, is not currently insisting on holding elections in East Jerusalem as well, and is demanding that Abu Mazen call on Cayman in any situation this May.

Only a minority voted

The history and precedents of East Jerusalem residents’ participation in Palestinian Authority election campaigns are complex: The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement of September 28, 1995 and another accompanying agreement “In connection with the process of registering voters” for September 23, 1995, stipulate that East Jerusalem residents may participate in Council elections Autonomy as voters, unless they are citizens of Israel.

Will cancel the election at the last minute? | PA Chairman Abu Mazen (screenshot)

Another consensus reached at the end of the previous millennium was that East Jerusalem residents could be elected to the council provided they had another address in the West Bank. The Israeli position was that in such a case the elected representatives represented the area outside Jerusalem, where they have a permanent address. The additional address did not have to be a residential address. Candidates were required to prove an affiliation with a place outside Jerusalem, be it a place of residence, work or business.

In the elections held on January 20, 1996, most East Jerusalem Arabs voted in Abu Dis outside the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. About 5,000 people, mainly the elderly, the sick and the elderly, were allowed to choose the post offices in East Jerusalem. The ballot boxes were called “receptacles” rather than ballot boxes, and were designed differently from a standard ballot box, in such a way that Israelis would not mention ballot boxes and Palestinians would not mention a regular “mailbox.” The “vessels” were placed in Beit Hanina, at the Jaffa Gate, in Shuafat, on the Mount of Olives and on Saladin Street, and the election propaganda in East Jerusalem was allowed on only 35 billboards. The turnout of East Jerusalem Arabs in these primaries was low: only 30 percent of them took part, while in other constituencies the turnout was higher than 70 percent.

For the second time, in January 2005, East Jerusalem residents participated in the Palestinian Authority presidential election, in which Abu Mazen was elected to office. Even then, about 6,000 residents were allowed to vote at post offices in the east of the city: at the Nablus Gate, at Tzur Baher, Ba-Tur, Beit Hanina, Shuafat, and at the main post office on Saladin Street. The rest voted at the polling stations in the “Jerusalem District” area, in the suburbs on the municipal jurisdiction of Jerusalem. This time, too, turnout in the east of the city was significantly lower (only 6 percent) than in other districts in the Palestinian Authority.

The High Court approved

For the third time, in 2006, East Jerusalem Arabs participated in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. Those elections took place after the second intifada, in which Jerusalem played a key role, and after a series of Israeli actions against Palestinian government institutions in the east of the city, headed by the Orient House, which housed PLO offices in East Jerusalem. Hamas’ decision to run in those elections drew Israeli opposition to holding elections in the east of the city, but after American pressure, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his successor (after Sharon fell ill) Ehud Olmert agreed to hold 1996 elections in East Jerusalem as well.

Percentage of votes that has only decreased over the years (East Jerusalem, screenshot)

In those days, the High Court rejected a petition against holding elections. The panel, headed by then-Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, stated that “there is no conflict between the proposed arrangement that allows several thousand Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to hand over their ballot at post offices in Jerusalem, while maintaining supervision and control there, by Israeli authorities, and Israel’s sovereignty. In Jerusalem and as stated in section 1 of the Jerusalem Basic Law ”(from the judgment of the then President of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak).

Ehud Olmert, who served as prime minister at the time, added in this spirit and also clarified: “While we do not relinquish our authority and sovereignty in all parts of Jerusalem, we certainly have an interest in maintaining the connection of the residents of East Jerusalem to a Palestinian state and not to the State of Israel. We never thought that it was in the interest of the State of Israel that all the Arabs of East Jerusalem be its citizens and participate in the electoral process. “Since we do not want them to participate in the elections in the State of Israel, we should certainly have agreed that they will participate in the elections of the Palestinian Authority and therefore this decision was right then and it remains correct today.” It should be noted in parentheses that Olmert’s positions changed from end to end over the years, until, as is well known, he agreed, on the eve of his resignation as prime minister, to a deep division of Jerusalem. As is well known, the Netanyahu governments abandoned the partition approach and returned to the traditional Israeli position regarding a united and complete Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.

In any case, in the January 2006 elections, Hamas won the four seats allotted to Muslims in the Jerusalem district. This time, too, the turnout among East Jerusalem residents was very low compared to the turnout in other districts in the Palestinian Authority. Only 16 percent of eligible voters exercised their right to vote from Jerusalem in the Palestinian Authority elections, about half the turnout ten years earlier.

And what this time?

Israel has meanwhile refrained from responding to the Palestinian Authority’s request in this matter, but even such conduct is a kind of response, especially when there is still no absolute certainty that elections will indeed take place.

In any case, it is unlikely that before the Israeli elections on March 23, we will see any Israeli response to the Palestinian request. The Likud and Prime Minister Netanyahu will certainly not want to be portrayed before the Israeli election as violating Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, especially since their view, on the body of the issue, is quite clear: Jerusalem is the united capital of Israel and forms part of Israeli sovereignty. in so doing.

His positions changed from end to end until he agreed to a deep division of Jerusalem Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO)

At the same time, the Washington administration is expected to address this issue. If the election does take place, he is likely to ask Israel to allow residents of East Jerusalem to vote in the Palestinian Authority elections. The assessment in Jerusalem and Washington is that in such a case – and if Israeli consent is given for the participation of the Arabs of East Jerusalem in the elections – Israel will try to extract from the United States a clarification that American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is valid and that there is no change in US position.

Recently, they “had fun” in Jerusalem, with the idea of ​​trying and achieving something with Saudi Arabia as well, in exchange for an Israeli agreement to hold PA elections in East Jerusalem as well. This can range from public giving and ties in various areas that now exist below the surface between Riyadh and Jerusalem, to the establishment of official relations of one degree or another between the two countries, with the “achievement” of elections to the Palestinian Authority in the east of the city seemingly in Riyadh’s favor. The idea, by the way, was also put on paper in a recently published Reut Institute position paper. In such a case, too, Israel will seek American clarifications that will preserve Trump’s achievement with the United States regarding Jerusalem. It should be noted, however, that this is an immature idea whose feasibility at the moment is not high. It may have been thrown into the air by political elements only as an “experimental balloon.”

In any case, if it is more for the Arabs of the East City to participate in the elections – and this is a big “mother” – a discussion is also expected to take place on how this will be done, with several options currently on the table:

A. Electronic voting, each man in his own house.

B. Voting from Abu Dis, outside the jurisdiction of Jerusalem. Abu Dis, in Area B, was previously mentioned by the Americans as a possible alternative to the capital of the Palestinian state, and in the Century Plan it was included in the area designated for the Palestinian capital outside the separation fence.

third. Voting as in 1996, 2005 and 2006, splitting the ballot boxes between post offices in the East Jerusalem core and the East Jerusalem neighborhoods, which are also included in the municipal area of ​​the Jerusalem Municipality and in the sovereign area of ​​the State of Israel, some beyond the fence.

D. Voting only in neighborhoods beyond the fence, for example in Kfar Akev, in the Shuafat refugee camp, and possibly even in the edge neighborhoods inside the fence.

It should be noted that Israel’s approach to the declaration and the orders issued by Abu Mazen regarding the PA election is quite reluctant, not only because of the East Jerusalem issue. The possibility that Hamas’ power will increase to a large extent following the election results – against the background of sympathy for the organization on the Palestinian street in the West Bank – also worries Israel. Although Abu Mazen and Hamas are currently in talks with each other in order to reach agreements that will allow the elections to take place, the possibility that Hamas will also have a formal foothold in the West Bank is a sleep deprivation in the eyes of security officials.

Abu Mazen himself, commentators estimate, may back down from his intention to hold the election and announce their postponement, if he fears Hamas will win it in this election, or if he fears an independent list led by prisoner Marwan Barghouti, who will face Fatah and win the most votes in the legislature. . In both cases, Abu Mazen may use Israeli disregard for his request to involve East Jerusalem Arabs in the election to explain why he is rejecting them.


The article was first published at the Jerusalem Center for Public and State Affairs.


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