A Palestinian political party is set to contend in Jerusalem’s municipal elections in October. This is the second Palestinian party to announce it will run in the elections, which East Jerusalem’s Palestinians, on the whole, have boycotted since 1967.
Ramadan Dabash, a social activist from East Jerusalem, announced this week he will head a ticket in the election, in a bid to break the Palestinian taboo on voting since the 1967 conquest of East Jerusalem.
Dabash, chairman of the community administration of the Tzur Baher neighborhood, intends to include representatives of all the Palestinian neighborhoods in his party, which he plans to call “Jerusalem for Jerusalemites.”
“I think people are ripe to vote. Some people object, saying this is Israelization and normalization, but I tell them this is everyone’s municipality and everyone’s country,” Dabash says.
“I’m not telling them to give up Al Aqsa, or convert to Judaism or renounce Palestinian nationalism, but we must have our place in city hall,” he says.
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This week Dabash, who has close ties with politicians in local and national government and once even described himself a Likud activist, met Yossi Beilin and other left-wing public figures and asked them to support his move.
In the past, several Palestinians wanted to run in the local election, but stepped down after they were threatened or their cars set on fire by Palestinian nationalists. “I’m not afraid, my car is worth 5,000 shekels [a little less than $1,500] and I don’t leave documents in it,” says Dabash. He notes, however, that he changes his route every now and then to make it harder to attack him.
Dabash is not the first Palestinian to announce his candidacy in the Jerusalem elections. About a year ago, the East Jerusalem Party, led by teacher Iyad Bibuah, registered to run in the 2018 election.
In a March 2017 interview with Haaretz, Bibuah, a teacher living near the Mount of Olives, said Israel’s sovereignty was “a diplomatic, not a municipal issue. Our party will act in the municipal field and work so that the Arab residents of Jerusalem have the rights and infrastructure they deserve, along with reducing violence and terror in the city.”
It is not clear if Bibuah’s party still plans to run in the October election.
Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents make up an estimated 37 percent of the city’s population. If a large proportion of them were to vote, the political makeup of the city council – currently controlled by a rightist-Haredi coalition – could change. However, as the main Palestinian political organizations are unlikely to change their policy against voting, turnout is expected to remain low.
“There’s a feeling something must be done, but the public doesn’t want to go with such people,” an East Jerusalem activist, who asked to remain unnamed, said in response to Dabash’s announcement.
“Even if the Palestinian Authority collapses, the public wants to follow a transparent, respectable person, not one close to the [Israeli] authorities. I won’t vote, even if voting means getting the sewage system fixed and operating the kindergartens. It’s a matter of principle,” said the activist.
Despite the criticism, Dabash’s announcement reflects the growing sentiment in East Jerusalem in favor of lifting the boycott on city elections. The Palestinians have boycotted the city election since 1967, claiming that voting is tantamount to recognizing the occupation and Israeli rule in the city. 93 percent of Jerusalem’s Palestinians have no right to vote for the Knesset.
In recent years, however, due to the standstill in the peace process and frustration with the Palestinian Authority’s performance, Jerusalem’s Palestinians, especially the young, seem more willing to consider taking part in the election.
A survey conducted recently by Professor Dan Miodownik and Noam Brenner of Hebrew University, together with the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, indicates that almost 60 percent of East Jerusalem’s residents believe Palestinians should take part in the municipal election, while 13 percent object. However, several officials said that without the support of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian parties or Jordan, the move will fail to draw a significant number of voters.
“People want to act, but the conditions aren’t ripe yet,” says media consultant Khatem Havis. “As long as the political bodies, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority aren’t part of it, and without the Americans’ and Europeans’ sponsorship, it won’t work.”