Most Palestinians in East Jerusalem will be able to vote in the upcoming Palestinian elections regardless of whether Israel allows voting to take place inside the city, the Palestinian Central Elections Commission said on Monday.
According to the commission, around 150,000 residents will be able to vote in what Palestinians call the “Jerusalem suburbs” — towns and villages that ring the capital. Israel defines these areas as lying in the West Bank, while the Palestinian Authority see them as part of its “Jerusalem Governorate.”
“The committee has provided eleven polling stations in the suburbs of Jerusalem so that the 150,000 Jerusalemites can vote in them without prior registration, and has trained technical staff to carry out this task,” the commission said in a statement.
The announcement comes as momentum builds for the scheduled Palestinian legislative elections, which are scheduled to take place on May 22.
Israel has yet to say whether it will permit voting in East Jerusalem. 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 the contested capital.
According to the Central Elections Commission, a symbolic 6,300 voters are expected to cast their ballots in such a method.
But Israel resists Palestinian Authority activity in Jerusalem, which it views as a violation of its sovereignty. On Saturday, Israel Police arrested three Palestinian candidates planning to hold a press conference on the elections at Jerusalem’s St. George Hotel.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki left Ramallah on Sunday to begin touring European capitals as part of a campaign to pressure Israel into allowing the vote.
Despite the diplomatic bluster, opponents of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have charged in recent days that the widely unpopular Abbas, fearful of political defeat, is using a tacit Israeli refusal to back away from holding the vote.
Abbas’s Fatah movement faces stark internal divisions, leading to fears of a loss to the Hamas terror group.
“Retreating from the elections would be defeat and submission to Israel,” Hamas deputy chief Saleh Al-Arouri told Al-Aqsa TV on Monday night. “Delaying the elections… will push the Palestinian arena into a deepening riptide of division.”
Three weeks ago, Palestinian security prisoner Marwan Barghouti announced through his wife Fadwa that he was forming his own slate to contest Abbas in the legislative vote. Barghouti joined Fatah dissident Nasser al-Kidwa, a respected diplomat and nephew of former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat.
A number of Fatah prisoners in Israeli jails sent a letter to Abbas on Saturday asking him to delay the elections, which they said would buy them time to fix the internal divisions within their movement.
Abbas’s rivals denounced the idea of delaying the vote, citing instead technical solutions to the problem of East Jerusalem voting.
“The vote can be held in the United Nations headquarters, in Al-Aqsa Mosque, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, schools, or any other institution agreed upon,” proposed political analyst Hani al-Masri, who is the seventh candidate on Barghouti and al-Kidwa’s list.
Delaying the elections, al-Masri warned in a Facebook post on Sunday, would constitute “a leap into the unknown.”