US has responsibility to ensure Jerusalemites are able to vote
American legislators and leaders in the Democratic Party are correctly carrying out strong protests against the recent slew of Republican-led state-level laws that attempt to suppress the right of Americans to vote. However, the recent voter restriction law in Georgia, for example, pales when one compares it to what the Israelis are doing to Palestinians in Jerusalem. What is worse is that the Biden administration is seemingly encouraging the postponement of the May 22 Palestinian elections because of such Israeli actions, rather than pressuring its ally to respect signed agreements.
Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization signed, in 1993 and 1995, a set of US-backed agreements that are often referred to as the Oslo Accords. Article II Section 3 states: “Palestinians of Jerusalem who live there may participate in the election process.” The agreement later details these arrangements in Article VI of Annex II, specifying the procedures for campaigning in East Jerusalem, the location of polling stations, and giving permission for international observers.
The accords allowed for voting through five Israeli-run post office locations in East Jerusalem. In 2006, the number of post offices increased to six and Israel allowed Palestinians to use all these locations to vote. Now there are 16 post offices in East Jerusalem. In 1996, 5,327 Palestinians voted using these post offices. In 2006, the number of Jerusalemites casting their votes rose to 6,300. All other qualified voters (estimated to be 150,000) used regular Palestinian polling stations just outside the borders of East Jerusalem, which were under the administrative control of the Palestinian government.
Despite the presence of such detailed articles in a signed agreement and the historic precedents of two previous elections, the Israelis have yet to make their position known as to whether this right will be respected this time around.
Official requests by the Palestinian government and members of the international community have not been answered by the Israelis. The absence of a decision might be explained by the fact that no government has yet emerged following last month’s fourth indecisive election in the past two years. But even though an official response has yet to emerge, the Israeli police appear to have signaled a rejection by banning meetings and election-related press conferences, along with the arrest of nominees.
While Israel is sending these negative signals, Washington has been officially silent and unofficially appears to be sending mixed signals. A “source” in Washington, speaking to the leading Palestinian daily Al-Quds, was on Saturday reported as saying that the Biden administration would “understand” if the Palestinian government chose to postpone the elections because of “political complexities.” No one in Washington has come out to confirm or deny this.
While Palestinians, especially Jerusalemites, are insisting on holding the long-delayed elections on time, there are hangers-on to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who are using the American hesitation and Israeli opposition to try and get out of the commitments that Palestinians have been eager to practice.
While Israel is sending negative signals, Washington has been officially silent and unofficially appears to be sending mixed signals.
The Palestinian Central Elections Commission has stated that 94 percent of those eligible have already registered to vote. The commission has also said that, of the 2.3 million potential voters, almost 1 million have never voted before and are fervently looking forward to making their voices heard. No external party, including the occupiers and their US allies, should interfere and stop the long-awaited right that all Palestinians want to exercise.
When commenting on the attempts by Republicans in Georgia to suppress African-American votes, President Joe Biden compared the move to the racist policies of the 20th-century US South and called it an “atrocity.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinians, who are struggling to be free of the yoke of Israel’s military occupation and colonial settlement enterprise, are not asking for the moon. They are simply asking for the implementation of signed agreements, to which former US President Bill Clinton (also a Democrat) was a witness. Washington cannot wash its hands of its commitments and must instead insist on the right of Palestinians, including those living in East Jerusalem, to be able to participate in the most sacred of democratic rights — that of choosing their representatives in free and fair elections.
- Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is a resident of East Jerusalem and has voted in the previous two election cycles. Twitter: @daoudkuttab