Palestinians debate value of Jerusalem vote boycott

Ramadan Dabash, a civil engineer from East Jerusalem who is running for a seat in city hall of Jerusalem in the upcoming municipal election, sits in his office in East Jerusalem, August 30, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 28 October 2018
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Palestinians debate value of Jerusalem vote boycott

  • Palestinian voter turnout was less than one percent in the last local vote in 2013
  • The vast majority of the disputed city’s roughly 300,000 Palestinians are expected to boycott the polls again

JERUSALEM: As Jerusalem voters go to the polls Tuesday for municipal elections, Palestinians are debating not which candidate to back — but whether to cast their ballots at all.
The vast majority of the disputed city’s roughly 300,000 Palestinians are expected to boycott the polls again, despite calls by a minority to use the elections to seize influence in a city under full Israeli control for decades.
Rami Nasrallah, director general of East Jerusalem’s International Peace and Cooperation Center think-tank, sees little to gain from voting.
“I’m not willing to recognize the political rules of the game and to recognize or legitimize the Israeli occupation,” he said.
Israel captured the city’s east and the surrounding West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War, later annexing East Jerusalem in a move never recognized by the international community.
Palestinians claim it as the capital of their future state.
Palestinian voter turnout was less than one percent in the last local vote in 2013, according to the Palestinian Academic Society for International affairs.
Municipalities and local councils across Israel will hold polls on Tuesday.
In Jerusalem a small number of Palestinian candidates are running for the council, but others have dropped out after criticism, intimidation and legal issues.
One of those who withdrew was Aziz Abu Sarah, who had even announced his intention to run for mayor.
He said it was time for Palestinians to “rethink” their boycott, pointing out that over 50 years Israel had moved around 200,000 settlers into east Jerusalem.
“We are losing Jerusalem every day,” he said during his campaign.
While he received support from both Palestinians and Israelis, he also faced a series of attacks and at one event was egged.
Like most Palestinian Jerusalemites, Abu Sarah has residency — not Israeli citizenship.
He was later told by Israeli authorities that his status as a Jerusalem resident was “being checked” due to his travel and work abroad, meaning he could be stripped of the right to stay in the city, he wrote on Facebook.
“Entrenched political interest groups on both sides hope to maintain the status quo, and will stop at nothing to prevent forward progress,” Abu Sarah said as he dropped out of the race.
Among the few Palestinians still in the race is Ramadan Dabash, who heads a list of six Arab candidates running for seats on the city council.
He has rare Israeli citizenship and is a former member of the right-wing Likud party run by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A lot of his votes could actually come from Jewish voters, rather than fellow Palestinians.
Dabash said he wanted to be on the council in order to protect Palestinians, and denied it amounted to recognizing Israel’s control of the city — which Israel considers its undivided capital.
Palestinians who have residency status rather than full Israeli citizenship can’t vote in general elections but can for the municipality, which is responsible for most Jerusalem schools as well as rubbish collection and other services.
“Palestinians pay more than 400 million shekels ($110 million) tax to the municipality,” Dabash told AFP. “They receive less than 10 percent of the services.”
Dabash said his mediation had helped prevent the demolition of dozens of homes in his neighborhood of Sur Baher in east Jerusalem.
But Palestinian involvement in the elections has been rejected by the Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank.
“Any Palestinian should refuse to be a part of them. We will not accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat told AFP.
“What did the PA do for Jerusalemites?” Dabash shot back. “Did they build them hospitals?“
But in the streets of east Jerusalem there has been no sign of any election campaigning.
The four leading mayoral candidates all hold conservative views on issues regarding the area’s Palestinian residents.
Trader Abu Yasser, from Jerusalem’s Old City, summed up the views of many Palestinians, saying he wouldn’t vote as the elections wouldn’t change much.
“If the Palestinians in Jerusalem knew they would achieve something from these elections they would have gone against the PA’s wishes and voted to get municipal services,” he said.


Tunisian parliament approves prime minister’s cabinet reshuffle

A general view shows a plenary session at the Tunisian parliament in the capital Tunis on November 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 20 min 8 sec ago
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Tunisian parliament approves prime minister’s cabinet reshuffle

  • The prime minister has been caught up in a dispute with the leader of the party, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, who is also the president’s son, and has accused Chahed of failing to tackle high inflation, unemployment and other problems

TUNIS: The Tunisian parliament approved on Monday a cabinet reshuffle proposed by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed amid a political and economic crisis.
The approval is widely seen in Tunisia as a victory for Chahed over his political opponents, including his party Nidaa Tounes, who demanded that he step down because of his government’s failure to revive the economy.
Youssef Chahed named 10 new ministers last week in a cabinet reshuffle he hopes will inject fresh blood into his government.
Chahed named Jewish businessman Rene Trabelsi as minister of tourism in the Muslim Arab country, only the third member of the small minority of 2,000 Jews to enter a cabinet since Tunisia’s independence in 1956.
A former foreign minister under the former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Kamel Morjan, became minister in charge of the public service, Tunisia’s main employer.
Portfolios such as finance, foreign affairs and the interior ministries were unchanged.
Lawmakers voted to approve the reshuffle, giving Chahed support to push on with economic reforms asked by lenders.
“Since two years we were working under random shelling from friendly fire,” Chahed said in speech in the parliament.
“We have not found political support in the reforms and in the fight against corruption, this is no longer possible as we want clarity to move forward in reviving the economy and ending the political crisis,” he said.
The prime minister has been caught up in a dispute with the leader of the party, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, who is also the president’s son, and has accused Chahed of failing to tackle high inflation, unemployment and other problems.
The party’s demands have been supported by the influential UGTT union, which has also opposed Chahed’s plans to overhaul loss-making public companies.
The political wrangling has alarmed donors which have kept Tunisia afloat with loans granted in exchange for a promise of reforms such as cutting a bloated public service.
“This reshuffle is a coup against the winning party in the 2014 elections ... Chahed did not consult with Nidaa Tounes about this reshuffle,” Sofian Toubel, an official in Nidaa Tounes said.
Tunisia has been hailed for its democratic transition since 2011 but the North African country has been hit by economic crisis and militant attacks since then.