When the Palestinian Authority applied for approval from the occupying power, Israel declared that it has “no position” on the issue of permitting Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to participate in elections if they are held in the occupied Palestinian territories. The situation is both surprising and politically frustrating.
The fact that the PA has to ask for permission to hold elections including Palestinians in the occupied city is in itself outrageous, but it is a well-known position that elections will not be held if they can’t take part. Such a stance may well be for the PA to emphasise that Jerusalem is Palestinian, regardless of the recent US recognition of the Holy City as the “undivided” capital of Israel.
However, the PA lacks the means to put pressure on Israel to accept Palestinian elections being held in East Jerusalem, whether economic, political or military. It can’t stop Israel doing whatever it wants to do to change the geography and demography of the city and its surrounds, not least for the purpose of their annexation. The latter could be for more illegal settlements, the confiscation of land or legal mischief-making. The PA has been and still is unable to confront this Israeli policy head on in the occupied West Bank or occupied Jerusalem.
If the PA is relying on European pressure to rein-in Israel, it clearly hasn’t read the new international reality very well since Donald Trump became US President. Europe is also unable to defend its global interests, especially in the Middle East, against unbridled US foreign policies.
The timing of Israel’s “no position” announcement is unfortunate for Israeli politics given the chaos and polarisation after two General Elections within the same year which have failed to produce a clear winner and new government.
Nevertheless, in principle the participation of the Palestinian Jerusalemites in the Palestinian elections fits in with the Israeli right-wing’s desire to exclude the indigenous population — wherever they are — from any form of direct representation in Israeli institutions, including the Knesset (parliament). It is also consistent with the Israeli wish to annex Palestinian areas without their residents; to take as much Palestinian land as possible with as few Palestinians as possible. Moreover, Palestinians in Jerusalem were allowed to take part in the 2006 elections.
However, the PA request came at a time when the right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, cannot afford to risk alienating far-right voters in the third General Election within twelve months due to be held in March. The far-right is calling for the PA to be dissolved, although the current government lacks parliamentary legitimacy for such a decision to be made.
It is regrettable, but the PA has given the Israelis a golden opportunity to take advantage of the election demand and impose more political and economic concessions out of the Palestinians. The PA is unable to force Israel to agree, and Israel will not consent without a high price.
It was better for the Palestinians to search for national solutions in order to enable the people of Jerusalem to participate, without being dependent on the will of the occupation. We are in a strange situation.
In the past, the Israeli occupation robbed us of our national decision-making ability but we went ahead regardless thanks to our irrepressible will and determination. Today, though, we are holding our breath and waiting for Israel’s approval to exercise the most important manifestation of our freedom and independence with a free and popular vote. It is indeed very frustrating.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 30 December 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.