Report: Israel to ignore PA request to hold elections in East Jerusalem
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Report: Israel to ignore PA request to hold elections in East Jerusalem

Abbas says he won’t allow vote for parliament, presidency without city; according to Channel 12, Israeli recalcitrance is coordinated with PA chief, who does not really want poll

View of the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, in East Jerusalem, May 27, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
View of the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, in East Jerusalem, May 27, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israel is planning to ignore a request by the Palestinian Authority to hold elections for its parliament in Israeli-controlled East Jerusalem, Israeli officials told the Ynet news site Saturday.

In an official letter last week, the PA asked that East Jerusalem be included in any potential vote for the long-defunct parliament and the presidency.

But after internal discussions at senior levels, the report said, Israel decided not respond to the request, likely leading PA President Mahmoud Abbas to postpone a national election.

Channel 12 news, meanwhile, reported that the Israeli move may have been made in coordination with Abbas, who believes he could stand to lose from holding an open, democratic election.

Last week Abbas said he would not go ahead with planned elections unless Israel allows Palestinians living in East Jerusalem to vote.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the 74th United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters on September 26, 2019 in New York City. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP)

“If Jerusalem residents can’t vote in the heart of the city where they live, there will not be elections,” Abbas said during a speech in Ramallah. “We are very interested in holding elections, but not at any price.”

The Palestinians have not held elections for more than a decade.

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, though they are eligible for it, but rather permanent residency.

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 is ready to participate in elections.

The PA hasn’t 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.

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. Israel considers East Jerusalem part of a united capital of Israel.

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

Both the PA and Hamas have said they will not take part in elections that exclude East Jerusalem.

Palestinian analysts believe the chances of a vote going ahead are low, both because of internal Palestinian disputes and Israel’s apparent unwillingness to let an East Jerusalem vote go ahead.

The Israeli government has cracked down on any PA activity in East Jerusalem in recent years and would be loath to allow a Palestinian vote in the city, particularly during an Israeli election campaign.

On Friday a European source told the The Times of Israel that the European Union was pressuring the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership to hold legislative and presidential elections, as the body appears to be moving toward a more strong-armed approach to Palestinian affairs after recently becoming the PA’s largest financial backer.

“Europe is sending a very clear message to the Palestinian Authority and
President Abbas that elections need to take place,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The EU became the PA’s top donor after the administration of US President Donald Trump, previously the authority’s highest supporter, ended hundreds of millions of dollars in security, economic and other assistance in 2018 and early 2019.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, address the media during a joint statement prior to a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, August 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

“There are some in Europe asking: ‘Why are we paying all this money while our goals are not being achieved?’” the source said, noting Europe’s chief aims include promoting the two-state solution and advancing the development of democratic Palestinian institutions.

A Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel personally conveyed a message to Abbas at a meeting in Berlin in August that she believes the Palestinians must take action to hold elections.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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