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EU to push Israel on Jerusalem voting as Abbas set to delay election – report

Lebanese newspaper says bloc wants time to pressure Jewish state on formally allowing voting in capital, a matter on which Israel has been silent

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wears a mask upon his arriving to head the Palestinian leadership meeting at his headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, Pool)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wears a mask upon his arriving to head the Palestinian leadership meeting at his headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, Pool)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has told the European Union, Egypt and Jordan of his decision to postpone the upcoming elections, but the EU has asked for a delay to a formal announcement on the matter so that it can pressure Israel to allow voting in East Jerusalem, a Lebanese newspaper reported Tuesday.

As justification for the postponement, Abbas is set to cite Israel’s silence on whether East Jerusalem Palestinians can participate.

The report in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, widely considered a mouthpiece for the terror group Hezbollah, came amid mounting indications that the elections will be delayed.

Palestinians are currently scheduled to head to their first national vote in 15 years on May 22. The last Palestinian national elections were held in 2006, when Hamas defeated Abbas’s Fatah movement in a landslide.

At a Monday meeting of the Fatah Central Committee, Abbas reiterated that he would not permit the elections to take place without the residents of East Jerusalem being permitted to vote.

Members of the Central Elections Commission’s field team checks to register a local woman to the electoral roll, at the main road of Gaza City, February 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The Palestinian leadership — including leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad — is scheduled to meet on Thursday to decide whether the elections can go forward without Israel officially permitting East Jerusalem Palestinians to participate. According to Al-Akhbar, the EU has asked Abbas to wait until at least after those discussions before making a formal announcement.

Egyptian officials said Monday that the Palestinian Authority intends to call off the elections at Thursday’s meeting. An Egyptian diplomat and an intelligence official said they had been briefed on the decision. They said Egypt was in talks with Israel to reach a compromise to allow the vote but those efforts have so far failed.

The intelligence official said Hamas wants the elections to go ahead but that no faction wants to proceed without guarantees from the international community that voting will be held in East Jerusalem. The official said the factions are discussing the formation of a unity government instead that would include Hamas.

Abbas’s opponents have charged in recent days that the widely unpopular PA president, fearful of political defeat, is using Israel’s refusal to formally permit East Jerusalem voting as a pretext to back away from holding the election. The vote, originally scheduled for 2010, sees his once-dominant Fatah movement under challenge from breakaway factions as well as Hamas.

Sources from Gaza’s ruling terror organization told Al-Akhbar on Monday that the potential cancellation of the elections could lead to an escalation of violence.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, top-level discussions are now taking place in Hamas to decide how the terror group will response to the expected postponement of the elections.

A Palestinian man casts a ballot during elections for the Fatah movment in the Nablus area, on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus, January 23, 2021. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Israel has yet to say whether it will permit voting in East Jerusalem, which it captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move not recognized by most of the international community. Palestinians there have Israeli residency rights, and in principle can apply for Israeli citizenship.

The Oslo Accords, a series of bilateral agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, stipulate that Palestinians can vote at designated post offices throughout Jerusalem.

The Palestinian election commission says 150,000 voters will be able to cast ballots on the outskirts of East Jerusalem, in a process that does not require a green light from Israel. And a symbolic 6,300 will get to vote within the holy city itself under Israeli supervision.

But Palestinian authorities fear that arrangement could still leave thousands of the city’s inhabitants disenfranchised.

The Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, while Israel considers the entire city its undivided capital and bars any PA activity from taking place in the city. About 60 candidates in the Palestinian elections are from East Jerusalem.

Aaron Boxerman and agencies contributed to this report.

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