Boycotting Since 1967 |

East Jerusalem Palestinians to Abandon Local Elections

Voter turnout expected to be low, after talk of reconsidering boycott is muted; Palestinians who considered running in city council back down.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Like all such exercises in Jerusalem since 1967, municipal elections in half of the city will be nothing but a ghost poll. Polling stations will open, partitions will be installed, but voters won't come.

Palestinians make up around 40 percent of the city's residents, yet they take no part in the municipal political game. This boycott of local elections since Israeli civil law was imposed on their part of the city in 1967 is an important principle of Palestinian nationalism in Jerusalem.

In the past year, as before every election, there was talk about reconsidering the boycott and going to the ballot box, whether as a means to improve quality of life or as a political statement. But the voter turnout is expected to remain extremely low.

In recent months two Palestinian groups considered fielding lists and/or candidates to run for the city council. They both stopped their activity following the criticism their plans evoked.

In one case an Arab candidate who planned to run on one of the Jewish lists stepped down after her life was threatened. Palestinian activists said resuming the peace negotiations and the inclusion of Jerusalem in the talks contributed to the continued boycott. People fear that taking part in the elections would be seen as agreement to Israel's continued rule over all of Jerusalem.

"Anyone who wants to vote is kidding himself," says Hani Issawi, of the village of Issawiya. "In Jerusalem you can't change anything from the inside, especially not the treatment of Palestinians. It's all about government policy. The municipality is just an instrument to oppress Palestinians. The only municipality we know is the one that destroys our houses, issues reports and confiscates property."

"Despite all the declarations, there are two cities here with a big difference between east and west. We're part of the Palestinian people and will never tie ourselves to Israeli reality," he says.

"Whom can we vote for?" ponders businessman and social activist Fuad Abu Hamed of Zur Baher. "Nir Barkat, who works with Elad (a right win NGO that promotes Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem) or Leon who's Lieberman's candidate? The feeling is that nobody wants us here."

While the Palestinians boycott the polls, the parties running in the elections are ignoring East Jerusalem almost completely. The left wing advocacy group Ir Amim analyzed the various platforms and found that most parties don't address the problems of East Jerusalem at all. The Palestinians have but one role to play in the candidates' campaigns – to be pointed out on campaign tours to frighten the Jewish voters.

Meir Margalit, a Jerusalem councilor (Meretz) who is in charge of the East Jerusalem department in the municipality, reports a "certain" change of mood on the Palestinian street.

"People tell me there's a change, whether it's because they have to pull themselves together or because they're afraid Moshe Leon will be elected. But if anything is really changing we'll only know after the elections," he says.

If the Palestinian voter turnout rises at all, the joint Meretz-Labor list is expected to be the first to profit.

East Jerualem.Credit: Michal Fattal

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