Palestinian boys ride a donkey past election posters on a signboard near Damascus Gate, outside Jerusalem's walled Old City, January 13, 2006. (Brian Vander Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

No East Jerusalem, No Palestinian Elections

Israeli media reports Israeli government’s intention to ignore PA request to include East Jerusalem residents in upcoming elections

Adding an extra twist to an already knotty situation, the Israeli government has decided to ignore the Palestinian Authority’s request last month to allow the inclusion of East Jerusalem in the Palestinian legislative and presidential elections, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Saturday night.

After high-level Israeli officials discussed the request over the past few days, the government agreed not to respond positively or negatively to the PA’s appeal, Yedioth reported.

Nabeel Shaath, an adviser on international relations to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, told The Media Line that Israel’s position isn’t new. However, the PA managed to reverse this position in previous elections, for example in the 2006 legislative elections.

“They ignored our request before, and then they denied it, but eventually our request was accepted. Israel is bound to its claim before the world of being a democratic state. To that end, how would it justify its decision to prevent a few thousand Palestinians from partaking in their legitimate elections? The whole world will pressure Israel,” Shaath said.

“We will intensify diplomatic efforts on European Union countries and other states to increase pressure on Israel, as happened in the previous three elections, including the 1996 elections. The Palestinian leadership will continue to operate through the international community,” Osama Qwasme, a spokesperson for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fatah faction, said to The Media Line.

Qwasme stressed that Israel doesn’t want the Palestinians to hold elections in East Jerusalem, especially after [US President Donald] Trump’s decision [to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital]. However, the Palestinian elections won’t be held without East Jerusalem, he said. Reaffirming Fatah’s position that participation by Jerusalemite Palestinians is imperative, he said, “We can’t hold the elections at the expense of Jerusalem, as if it [Jerusalem] were separate from the Palestinian system.”

When asked about doubts that have been raised regarding the sincerity of Fatah’s stated intention to hold elections, he responded that the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank has for years been holding municipal, university and other elections “which indicates that democracy is an essential part of our national work.”

Qwasme also said that the Palestinian street is divided on whether a presidential decree should be issued setting the date of the elections. Some Palestinians demand that President Abbas set a final date for the elections and then pressure Israel to approve, while others think it doesn’t matter.

“Despite the division in the Palestinian street, the majority of Palestinians refuse to hold elections without Jerusalem in any case,” he added.

Speaking to The Media Line, Shadi Othman, the European Union spokesperson in Jerusalem, denied a report that the EU was going to cut aid to the PA if elections weren’t held.

“Once a presidential decree setting the time frame for elections is issued, the EU will stand ready to engage with relevant actors to support the electoral process. The EU calls on all Palestinian factions to seek common ground and to resolve pending issues as regards the organization of the elections,” Othman said, affirming that participative, representative and accountable democratic institutions are key for Palestinian state-building, which is essential for the two-state solution.

Alon Pinkas, an Israeli political adviser and former diplomat, told The Media Line that Israel has always been ambivalent about the voting of East Jerusalem Palestinians, which showed that it essentially had no policy. “On the one hand, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and vowed that the city would never be divided again, which means that East Jerusalem Palestinians should be eligible to apply for full Israeli citizenship. But they are not,” Pinkas said. “On the other hand, allowing the Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote in the PA election will undermine the entire concept of a unified and united [Jerusalem] city.”

Last month, PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Sheikh requested that Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem be allowed to participate in the upcoming Palestinians elections. This followed President Abbas’ promise, made during his speech to the UN General Assembly on September 26, to finally hold long-overdue elections in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Ismail Haniyeh, head of the political bureau of the Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, informed Palestinian Central Elections Commission Chairman Hanna Nasser on October 28 of Hamas’ willingness to participate in the election.

However, no presidential decree has yet been issued setting a date for the elections, due to the lack of an Israeli response.

When reached by The Media Line, two Hamas spokespeople in Gaza refrained from commenting on the matter.

Ali Jarbawi, a political science professor at Birzeit University and former higher education minister, told The Media Line that holding elections in East Jerusalem is a matter that concerns Israel. However, the interim Israeli government, which is itself preparing for an election on March 2 following two Israeli elections that produced indecisive results, will in the meantime neither accept nor reject the Palestinian proposal.

“Israel won’t allow Palestinians to hold elections in East Jerusalem until after the Israeli elections, which need time,” Jarbawi said.

At the same time, Jarbawi explained, it is not possible to hold Palestinian elections without East Jerusalem. Therefore, a Palestinian decision is needed to figure out how to hold the elections in Jerusalem as well: “If the Palestinians are interested in holding the elections, there is always a possibility for creative solutions.”

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