Adding an extra twist to an already knotty situation, the 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.
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.
Nabil Sha'ath, an adviser on international relations to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, says 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," Sha'ath says.
"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,” Sha'ath says.
“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," he says.
"The Palestinian leadership will continue to operate through the international community,” says Osama Qwasme, a spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fatah faction.
According to Qwasme, Israel doesn’t want the Palestinians to hold elections in East Jerusalem, especially after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
However, the Palestinian elections won’t be held without East Jerusalem, he says.
Reaffirming Fatah’s position that participation by Jerusalemite Palestinians is imperative, he says: “We can’t hold the elections at the expense of Jerusalem, as if it were separate from the Palestinian system.”
Qwasme also rejects questions about the sincerity of Fatah’s stated intention to hold elections, saying 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 says the Palestinian public is divided on a presidential decree to set the date of the elections. Some Palestinians demand that 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 says.
Meanwhile, Shadi Othman, the European Union spokesperson in Jerusalem, denies reports that the EU intends to cut aid to the PA if elections aren’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," says Othman.
"The EU calls on all Palestinian factions to seek common ground and to resolve pending issues as regards the organization of the elections,” he says.
According to Othman, 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, says 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 says.
“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 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.
Ali Jarbawi, a political science professor at Birzeit University and former higher education minister, says that holding elections in East Jerusalem is a matter that concerns Israel.
However, the interim government, which is itself preparing for an election on March 2 following two 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 says, 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.”
Article written by Dima Abumaria. Reprinted with permission from The Media Line