With East Jerusalem Vote in Question, Palestinian Authority Considers Delaying Election

Israel prevents the PA from political activity in East Jerusalem, which could thwart the election – but that may work in President Abbas' favor as Fatah split bolsters Hamas

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Palestinian women look for their names on the electoral roll at a school in Gaza City, last month.
Palestinian women look for their names on the electoral roll at a school in Gaza City, last month.Credit: Mohammed Abed/AFP

Palestinian Authority sources believe that the Palestinian parliamentary elections should be delayed due to Israel's opposition to holding the vote in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority leadership discussed the issue on Monday and Sunday, but has yet to make a decision on the matter.

Israeli officials have not yet commented on the Palestinian elections or the issue of voting in the area, but the Israel Police do not allow the PA to hold any political events in East Jerusalem, including confabs and press conferences by Palestinian candidates and activists.  

The PA's official position is to hold the election on its scheduled date, May 22. The leadership is requesting that the international community, specifically the United States and European Union, pressure Israel to allow voting in East Jerusalem.

In his opening address to the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization on Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that the PA is "determined to hold elections on time in all the Palestinian areas in which we previously held them – namely, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.”

East Jerusalem's 6,000 voters are unlikely to affect the outcome of an election in which over 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are eligible to vote. There might even be workarounds to allow them to cast ballots without Israeli permission.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas heads a leadership meeting at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, last year.Credit: Alaa Badarneh,AP

But senior Palestinian officials have said in past days that Israeli opposition to the election could torpedo them completely. They claim that they cannot accept Israel's stance that Jerusalem is its capital. "Without Jerusalem, we can't hold the elections," Executive Committee member Ahmed Majdalani said.

The election commission says that, as with past elections, some 6,300 east Jerusalem residents would vote at post offices, which require Israeli permission to accept ballots. It says the rest of the roughly 150,000 eligible East Jerusalem voters could cast ballots on the outskirts of the city with or without Israel's approval.

For those living in the city center, the Palestinians could either defy Israeli restrictions in a campaign of civil disobedience or set up voting booths inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a holy site under Jordanian custodianship. Israel might be hesitant to crack down on such activities for fear of igniting tensions or being seen as preventing a free and fair election.

Less provocatively, the 6,300 Palestinians could potentially vote in the West Bank or on the other side of Israel's separation barrier, territories to which east Jerusalem residents usually have free access. The Palestinians might also seek to use UN facilities in east Jerusalem.

At the same time, PA political sources claim that delaying the vote because of Israeli resistance is an attempt by PA leadership, and specifically by Abbas' Fatah faction, to avoid losing the election due to rifts in his party. In recent weeks, Fatah has split into three rival lists, including one led by Marwan Barghouti, a popular leader who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for his involvement in murders and terror attacks during the second intifada.

Polls point to a split Fatah vote that could leave the unified Hamas as the largest party in parliament. If Barghouti decides to run for president in a vote planned for July 31, he is expected to easily defeat Abbas.

Those results would likely spell the end of the 85-year-old Abbas' political career and elevate a new leadership that Israel, the United States and the European Union view as terrorists.

Hamas has also opposed postponing the election. The deputy head of Hamas' political wing, Saleh al-Arouri, told the Al-Aqsa channel that the organization insists that the vote be held on the predetermined date. "Postponing the elections on the grounds of their not being held in Jerusalem is a surrender to Israel's impositions, and is unacceptable," he said, in a message directed at the leadership in Ramallah as well.  

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