Police arrest six Palestinian election campaigners
Six Palestinians were arrested yesterday for hanging campaign posters on billboards in East Jerusalem for the Palestinian parliament elections set for January 25.
The police arrested and fined the activists, despite Israel's official announcement that it would permit campaigning in the city, providing it was coordinated with the police and involved not more than 20 billboards.
However, the police and Israeli government officials have yet to reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority over the issue, although the Palestinian election campaign already had started on January 2.
The police fined the activists NIS 450 and released them after forcing them to deposit NIS 1,000 as part of a commitment not to campaign in East Jerusalem or hang campaign material in the streets.
The police and Jerusalem municipality intend to indict the activists for engaging in forbidden campaigning and spoiling land. They also will impose a NIS 450 fine on the candidates - mostly independent ones - whose portraits were on the placards.
In addition to yesterday's arrests, Israeli authorities have arrested, detained and occasionally beaten up about 10 candidates from East Jerusalem in recent days.
Meanwhile, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat are to meet two White House envoys, David Walsh and Elliott Abrams, and Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn today in an attempt to reach an agreement over the East Jerusalem elections.
The PA's official position is that elections in East Jerusalem must be held in the same format as those in 1996 and last January's PA leadership elections.
The Palestinians are demanding that there be at least 44 billboards throughout the city, and an increase in the number of polling stations from five to 15.
Israel objects to Hamas' participation in the East Jerusalem elections. This could sabotage the vote, because the Hamas candidates' names will be on the official PA ballots. However, no Hamas candidate or activist has yet to be arrested since the campaign began.
Washington yesterday urged the PA to ensure that the elections run smoothly, despite concern that they will boost the influence of Palestinian militants.
"It remains the view of the United States that there should be no place in the political process for groups or individuals who refuse to renounce terror and violence, recognize Israel's right to exist, and disarm," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.
Rice was referring to Hamas, which the U.S., European Union and Israel consider a terrorist group, but which has a growing political constituency in the Palestinian-controlled areas of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Washington has leaned on Israel to lift a threat to block voting in East Jerusalem.
As the elections approach, Hamas is closing in on the ruling Fatah Party, according to a poll released yesterday.
Fatah won 35 percent support compared to 31 percent for Hamas, said Nader Said, who conducted the poll for Bir Zeit University in the West Bank. In a Bir Zeit poll last month, Fatah won 36.7 percent, compared to 20.6 percent for Hamas. Said explained the latest poll would be released in greater detail Saturday. He said it had an margin of error of 3 percent, and was conducted last week among 1,500 respondents.