Aug 17, 2022
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TPS reported on Sunday that activists from Fatah and eastern Jerusalem are planning to run an Arab candidate in the Jerusalem municipal elections in October 2023.  According to reports, Fatah activists have met with Arab businessmen, public figures from the eastern section of Jerusalem, and at least one member of the Knesset. The initiative is supposedly moving forward in consultation with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. 

The decision raises difficulties for Fatah, formerly the Palestinian National Liberation Movement, which is the largest faction in the Palestinian Authority government. Fatah does not officially recognize Israel as the Jewish state. The party generally refers to Israel as ‘the occupation” and does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, and actively boycott the city. Running in the municipal elections would signify tacit recognition of Jewish sovereignty over the city. 

The party’s candidates will therefore run as independents with no formal connection with the party. 

Samer Sangelavi, a Fatah activist and head of the East Jerusalem Development Fund, said that “after 55 years of boycotting the municipal elections, the time has come to review this policy and possibly change it, in the light of developments.”

“It is very possible that we will see Palestinian participation and also an independent list already in the upcoming elections,” he said.

The meetings discussed what they called “the Mansour Abbas effect,” named for the head of the Arab Ra’am party, who joined the coalition led by Naftali Bennett one year ago. Abbas, the first Arab Knesset member to join a coalition government, did so in exchange for massive budget concessions that benefitted Israel’s Arab sector.

Walid Abu Tayya, an Israeli Arab lawyer who has an office in the east of the city, is coordinating the effort. Abu Tayya told TPS that he intends to submit a candidacy and will act on behalf of an independent list “without connection to Fatah or Arab Knesset members,” emphasizing that he “does not know what the Mansour Abbas effect is.”

Arab-Israeli lawyer Walid Abu Taya (screenshot)

Any candidates, and the voters who support them, must be Israeli citizens. Jerusalem has an Arab population of 350,000. A recent report on Channel 12 stated that nearly 20,000 residents of eastern Jerusalem have Israeli citizenship. The report by Israeli journalist Ohad Hamo claimed that there had been an increase in the rate of Arabs seeking to obtain Israeli citizenship as well as in the rate of Arabs seeking to study the Israeli curriculum and the Hebrew language.

According to the current numbers, the possibility of electing an Arab mayor in Israel’s capital is not beyond reason, especially if the Jewish camp is split. 

“It has not yet been decided which candidate will run at the head of the Palestinian list that will run in the elections,” said a Fatah activist from Jerusalem. 

“This is a real expression of the one-state idea,” a senior Fatah official told TPS. “We are seriously considering changing our policy that supported the boycott of the elections and is recalculating a new course, but the direction is positive.”

The activist added that “the goal is a vote of at least 20,000 people, who will support the Arab candidate for the municipality while taking advantage of the division in the Jewish and religious lists.”

Samer Sangelavi, a Fatah activist and head of the East Jerusalem Development Fund, said that “after 55 years of boycotting the municipal elections, the time has come to review this policy and possibly change it, in the light of developments.”

“It is very possible that we will see Palestinian participation and also an independent list already in the upcoming elections,” he said.

The report in TPS claimed that even though Fatah officially boycotts the Jerusalem municipality, they have, nonetheless, been active in managing the Arab neighborhoods within Jerusalem’s jurisdiction borders but outside the security barrier via a special directorate at the Qalandia Crossing. 

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