In less than one month, the Palestinian Authority is set to have its first legislative elections in 15 years but there is one obstacle: Jerusalem.
Jerusalem: “A bowl of reeling”
About two million Arabs in the areas administered by the PA in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem, and Gaza will be eligible to vote for the Palestinian Legislative Council on may 22 and for the president on July 31. But PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced that if the Arab residents of Jerusalem are not included in the elections, the elections will not take place.
“The elections should take place in Jerusalem, our eternal capital, and its people should be allowed to present their candidacy, vote and hold electoral campaigns,” the Fatah Central Committee said in a statement. “Failing to hold the elections in Jerusalem means returning to the ‘Deal of the Century’ [former US president Donald Trump’s plan for Middle East peace].”
“Jerusalem is a redline,” Abbas said. “We won’t allow anyone to harm it.”
Israel has been unresponsive, neither aceding nor rejecting this demand. Allowing them to participate is tacit acknowledgment that the areas of Jerusalem in which they live are, in fact, part of the Palestinian Authority.
The Oslo Accords signed in 1993 and establishing the PA, stipulate that Palestinians can vote at designated post offices throughout Jerusalem but not in person at PA run ballots.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.
Abbas has also demanded that the Arabs in Gaza also take part in the elections, a demand which was accepted by Hamas, which represents the duly elected government in Gaza, on the condition that the elections include the Arabs of Jerusalem.
Abbas announced that the final decision will be delayed, aceding to the European Union and United Nations request that he reconsider while they pressure Israel.
The real fear: a Hamas victory
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University, explained that Abbas did not support elections from the outset.
“These elections are entirely a product of the Biden administration,” Dr. Kedar said. “The new administration wanted to show that the PA was a democracy in order to justify resuming financial aid. Financial aid to an entity that does not have elections looks like supporting a dictatorship. So they told Abbas to announce elections.”
“However in a rather obtuse manner, the Biden administration didn’t take into account that an election could end up with a victory for Hamas, as it did in Gaza in 2006. Just as the US did not think Hamas would win. As it is, Hamas actually took a majority of the seats in Ramallah belong to Hamas so Abbas froze the council to prevent Hamas from taking power. Currently, HAmas is one unified party but Fatah has divided into several parties. This gives Hamas a huge advantage in the elections. Victory for Hamas in the upcoming elections would put them in power in Judea and Samaria as well as Gaza.”
“It was very convenient for Abbas to blame Israeli intransigence over Jerusalem for postponing the elections but his real concern is that Hamas is poised to take power,” Dr. Kedar said.
The ongoing battle for Jerusalem
Rabbi Yisrael Ariel was part of the IDF forces who conquered the Templ Mount in the 1967 Six-Day War and he percieves the current political debate as a coninuation of that battle.
“The war for Jerusalem never ended. When we entered the city in the Six Day War, there were white flags of surrender on every house and when we conquered the Temple Mount, we raised the Israeli flag. But if you go out into the streets of Jerusalem today, the Arab youth are actually fighting for the city,” Rabbi Ariel said, referring to the wave of violence. “The Israeli government, led by Moshe Dayan in 1967, forfeited the Temple Mount, taking down the Israeli flag. Until today, the Israeli government is waving the white flag of surrender over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. A quarter million Arabs go to the Temple Mount for Ramadan, even though there is no connection between the site and Islam. With Arabs, it is all political. This is being presented as a national issue by the Arabs but the real question is whether the Jews are ready to take possession of what is ours. We have abandoned the Shechinah (the holy presence). The people are ready but the government is not willing to be the true leaders of Israel.”