With a little over two weeks left before municipal elections, two questions are becoming increasingly important: Will the Palestinians in East Jerusalem come out to vote, and, if so, will they cast their ballots in the thousands for Arcadi Gaydamak? A yes on both counts could completely change the voting results in the capital. The East Jerusalem press now gives the unmistakable impression that Palestinian officials are trading in their overt, official boycott of the elections for a show of understanding or even open support for voting, for the good of the Palestinian cause. Missing from the most recent issues are references to those who voted in the municipal elections as collaborators or even traitors.
Saturday's edition of the important East Jerusalem paper Al Quds featured articles on and interviews with the mayoral candidates, in which Gaydamak was presented as the one preferred by the Palestinians. The ultra-Orthodox candidate, Meir Porush, was described as a "Jewish extremist," while Nir Barkat's past as a paratroops officer was mentioned and he was described as an "extreme nationalist businessman." In contrast, the paper called Gaydamak a "billionaire of Russian origin," without even mentioning the fact that he is Israeli and Jewish.
Gaydamak's intensive campaigning in East Jerusalem has included a secret meeting with the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein. On Sunday he is scheduled to meet with a number of other public figures, including the journalist and independent political activist Hanna Siniora. A separate campaign headquarters is working to get out the East Jerusalem vote. Its main figure is Akram Abu Shalbak, a confidant of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Other features of Gaydamak's quiet campaign among Palestinian voters include a weekly election newspaper in Arabic.
East Jerusalem politicians were quoted in Saturday's edition of Al Quds as being impressed by the practical tone taken by Hatam Abd al-Qadir, Abbas' advisor on Jerusalem affairs. Just one month ago Abd al-Qadir called on all Jerusalem residents to boycott the elections. Now he is being quoted by the French press agency as saying that although voting in the election does deepen the recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the city, if the working assumption of the peace talks changes to a dialogue for the establishment of a binational state, "I will call on all Jerusalemites to vote, even for the Tel Aviv municipality."
The politicians said this was not a call to vote, and also not a call for a boycott. They also noted that PA officials are waging a battle against the decision by city hall and the Interior Ministry not to open polling stations in Palestinian population centers beyond the separation fence, despite the presence of inhabitants with Jerusalem residency permits who are eligible to vote in the city elections.
Siniora argues that East Jerusalem Palestinians must vote in the municipal elections in order to stop Jewish settlement and demolitions of Arab homes in East Jerusalem.
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