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.


Israel strikes Hamas post after gunfire at troops

Updated 44 min 44 sec ago
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Israel strikes Hamas post after gunfire at troops

  • An informal truce between Hamas and Israel has brought relative calm to the border in recent weeks
  • Hamas is labelled a terrorist organization by the US and the EU, and banks are hesitant to make the transfer

GAZA CITY, Palestinian territories: An Israeli tank shelled a Hamas site in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday after gunfire at soldiers near the border fence, the army said.
There were no reports of injuries in either incident. Hamas said two of its military wing’s observation posts had been hit east of Beit Hanoun.
An informal truce between Hamas and Israel has brought relative calm to the border in recent weeks.
But there have been warnings of another escalation since Israel reportedly held up the latest cash transfer from Gulf state Qatar to Gaza, set to take place under the truce.
The payments are controversial in Israel, where they have sparked opposition from right-wing activists and politicians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is campaigning for re-election in April 9 polls.
Qatar’s ambassador to Gaza said Monday that the $15 million (13 million euros) in cash, to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants in the enclave, is expected to be delivered via Israel this week.
Israel’s government has not commented. Its permission is required since the cash must be delivered via Israeli territory.
Hamas is labelled a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, and banks are hesitant to make the transfer.
The payment would be the third of six planned tranches, totalling $90 million, in connection with the truce.
Israel has also allowed deliveries of Qatari-financed fuel to the blockaded enclave to help ease a severe electricity shortage.
Mass protests and clashes erupted on the Gaza-Israel border in March last year.
The weekly protests have been calling for Palestinian refugees in Gaza to be able to return to their former homes now inside Israel.
Israel accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover to carry out violence.
At least 243 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March, the majority during protests and clashes. Others have died in airstrikes or shelling.
Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period, one by a Palestinian sniper and another during a botched special forces operation inside Gaza.
Israel and Islamist movement Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, have fought three wars since 2008.