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Israel not seeking to thwart Palestinian election, official tells EU envoys

Foreign Ministry official meets with ambassadors from bloc, urges them not to believe Ramallah’s claims that Israel blocking vote in East Jerusalem

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

In this October 20, 2012, photo, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shows his ink-stained finger after casting his vote during local elections at a polling station in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
In this October 20, 2012, photo, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shows his ink-stained finger after casting his vote during local elections at a polling station in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday stressed to a group of European Union ambassadors that it has no interest in thwarting the upcoming Palestinian elections.

The Foreign Ministry’s political director Alon Bar met with 13 ambassadors from EU countries and urged them not to heed claims of Israeli interference in the election by officials close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The meeting came as Ramallah appeared poised to delay next month’s vote, citing Israel’s alleged refusal to allow voting to be held in East Jerusalem.

“During the meeting, Alon Bar emphasized to the ambassadors that the elections in the Palestinian Authority are an internal Palestinian issue, and that Israel has no intention of intervening in them nor preventing them,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.

Tuesday’s meeting was initiated by the EU member states, who stressed the importance of Israel allowing the Palestinians to hold their elections uninhibited — a move they said would strengthen the PA. They also asked Israel to authorize the entrance of EU observers to the West Bank and Gaza in order to monitor the election.

Bar told the diplomats that Israel has made a decision not to comment publicly on the elections scheduled for next month, adding that Jerusalem has not yet decided whether to allow them to take place in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem where nearly 400,000 Palestinians live, according to the Walla news site. Those Palestinians have Israeli residency rights, and in principle can apply for Israeli citizenship, but face considerable hurdles in doing so.

The Foreign Ministry official speculated that Abbas would ultimately decide to delay the elections due to growing concerns that the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group would win, Walla reported. Bar also said that Israel would oppose any future Palestinian government to which Hamas is a party.

Bar reminded those present of Hamas’ role in encouraging increased violence in Jerusalem, as well as the firing of rockets from Gaza at Israeli civilians, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Bar also said Hamas’s rise “could have implications on the ground for security stability in the region, the promotion of civilian projects in Palestinian Authority areas, as well as attempts to advance contact between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Bar “emphasized that Israel is acting cautiously and responsibly to prevent the situation on the ground from deteriorating, and expects that the European countries will act in the same manner,” the ministry said.

Attending the meeting were the EU’s ambassador to Israel Emmanuele Giaufret, along with the envoys of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Greece and Portugal.

Abbas is widely reported to be leaning toward delaying the elections.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2020. (Flash90)

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.

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.

Abbas’s opponents have charged in recent days that the unpopular PA president, fearful of political defeat, is using Israel’s alleged 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.

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 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 officially 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.

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