PA Elections Must Include East Jerusalem, Officials Tell U.S.

Elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council must also take place in East Jerusalem, as was the case in the previous elections in 1996, Palestinian representatives recently told their American counterparts.

The Palestinian Election Law of 1995 divides the Palestinian Authority territories into 16 regions, including East Jerusalem. Today, as in previous elections, the regional elections system has come under heavy criticism, as it discriminates against smaller parliamentary lists and encourages voting on a personal rather than a political-ideological basis. However, no Palestinian faction is actually planning to demand a change in the electoral system because this could lead to the annulment of the 1996 precedent in which the residents of East Jerusalem voted for the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Minister of Local Government, who heads the reform committee preparing the next elections, denied on Saturday that a senior American official had suggested changing the Palestinian electoral law in order to include elections for a prime minister, and to cancel the participation of East Jerusalem in the elections.

"Neither Condoleezza Rice nor Colin Powell mentioned 'Jerusalem' or 'prime minister' in our talks," Erekat said and added that the Palestinians had made it clear that this was an internal Palestinian affair.

Recent reports from both the PA and the United States claim that the Americans are insisting that the Palestinians elect a prime minister (as a way to push PA chairman Yasser Arafat aside).

Erekat has already prepared detailed plans for both presidential and parliamentary elections.

According to a Palestinian source who took part in Friday's meeting with the Middle East Quartet [comprising the U.S., United Nations, European Union and Russia] in Paris, the American delegation suggested that a new election law be drafted in order to change the system from a presidential to a parliamentary system namely, by authorizing parliament to choose a prime minister.

The Palestinian Basic Law, which Arafat only authorized two months ago despite the fact that it was passed by the legislative council five years ago, does not include a prime minister.

The Oslo Accords, which served as the basis for elections to the legislative council, do not mention elections for a prime minister. Therefore, such elections would necessitate a constitutional change that would require extensive hearings by the legislative council.