PA seeks Israel’s permission to let East Jerusalemites vote in its elections
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PA seeks Israel’s permission to let East Jerusalemites vote in its elections

Senior Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh says Ramallah awaiting Israel’s response; analyst expresses skepticism that vote will take place

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

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, October 20, 2012. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
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, October 20, 2012. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

The Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership has officially requested permission from Israel to allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote and run in Palestinian Authority parliamentary and presidential elections, a senior PA official said on Tuesday.

“We officially asked Israel to allow East Jerusalem residents to participate in legislative and presidential elections in terms of running and voting,” tweeted Hussein al-Sheikh, the head of the PA Civil Affairs Commission and a close confidant of Abbas. “We are awaiting Israel’s response.”

The overwhelming majority of Palestinians in East Jerusalem cannot vote in national elections in Israel because Israeli law only permits citizens of the Jewish state to cast ballots. Palestinians in East Jerusalem largely do not hold citizenship, but rather permanent residency.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas told the annual gathering of the United Nations General Assembly in September in New York City that he would call for general elections in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the near future.

He has since met several times with the head of the PA Central Elections Committee, Hanna Nasser, to discuss the possibility of holding elections, but has yet to set dates for the vote.

Meanwhile, the Hamas terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip, has declared it was ready to participate in elections.

Th East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on September 9, 2019. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)

The PA has not held parliamentary or presidential elections since 2006 and 2005, respectively.

The PA and Hamas have been at loggerheads since the latter ousted the former from Gaza in 2007. Multiple attempts to reconcile the two and bring the West Bank and Gaza under a single government have failed.

Asked whether Israel received a request from the Palestinians to hold elections in East Jerusalem, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said he was looking into the matter.

Channel 13 quoted an unnamed senior Israeli official as saying Tuesday that Sheikh sent a letter to Israel three weeks ago, asking for permission to set up PA polling booths in East Jerusalem and allow voting in the elections.

According to the report, the senior official also said Sheikh asked Israel to permit Palestinians in East Jerusalem to run in such elections. Israel has not yet responded to Sheikh, the official said.

The Oslo Accords, signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1990s, set out a mechanism to enable Palestinians to participate in elections in East Jerusalem, which the Jewish state considers part of its sovereign capital.

The Palestinians have said they want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Hussein al-Sheikh, a close confidant of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking on Palestine TV, the official PA channel. (Screenshot: Palestine TV)

Israel allowed PA elections to take place in East Jerusalem in 1996, 2005 and 2006.

Jihad Harb, a Ramallah-based Palestinian analyst, however, expressed skepticism that the PA would soon hold the vote.

“The possibility that elections will take place is very low,” he said in a phone call. “I would say that it stands around 20%.”

He contended that the one of the main obstacles to Palestinian elections was Israel’s unwillingness to allow them to be held in East Jerusalem.

“Israel probably will be going to new elections soon. In that context, the government there almost certainly will not allow for Palestinian elections to take place in Jerusalem,” he said, noting that both Abbas and Hamas have said that they will not agree to hold elections that exclude East Jerusalem.

Israel, which appears poised to go to another round of national elections in March following two inconclusive elections in a year, has cracked down on PA activity in Jerusalem in the past few years.

Harb also said the PA and Hamas have still not reached agreements on a number of issues related to elections.

“The two sides have not agreed on which court will be responsible for arbitrating disputes related to elections. They also have not reached a consensus on who will provide police supervision for them,” he said, adding that the PA does not view the Hamas-run security forces in Gaza as legitimate.

Palestinian security officers wait to cast their early votes during local elections at a polling station in the West Bank town of Jenin on Thursday. Members of Palestinian security forces cast an early vote ahead of local elections, which are taking place Saturday, in the first such polls since 2006.(photo credit: AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)
Palestinian security officers wait to cast their early votes during local elections at a polling station in the West Bank town of Jenin on Thursday. Members of Palestinian security forces cast an early vote ahead of local elections, which are taking place Saturday, in the first such polls since 2006. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)

“Then, there is the 2007 elections law, which could present challenges for Hamas,” he said. “The PA and Hamas also have not worked out an arrangement in which they will allow each other to operate freely. In fact, we have recently seen the PA arresting Hamas members and vice-versa.”

The PA’s 2007 election law requires all candidates running for parliament or president to “uphold the PLO as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

Hamas is not a member of the PLO and has strongly opposed several moves it made including the decision to sign the Oslo Accords.

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