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Monday, November 15, 2004

The debate over E. Jerusalem Arabs voting in PA elections (Haaretz)

Haaretz - Israel News - PM favors granting East Jerusalem Arabs voting rights in Palestinian Authority elections:
By Gideon Alon and Mazal Mualem

The government will be holding a comprehensive debate soon on the participation of East Jerusalem's Arab residents in the upcoming Palestinian Authority elections, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced at yesterday's cabinet meeting.
'I don't know whether their voting can even be prevented after they already voted in the previous elections in 1996,' Sharon noted, referring to the last PA polls in which East Jerusalemites voted, via mail-in ballots. Several ministers who were present at the meeting received the impression that Sharon is leaning toward allowing East Jerusalem Arabs to vote.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said that a final decision on the matter will be made during the week following the government debate.

Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, who raised the matter for discussion, said that East Jerusalem's Arabs must be allowed to vote in the PA elections since it is intolerable for there to be a large group of people who are not allowed to vote anywhere; they cannot participate in Knesset elections since they are not Israeli citizens. Poraz likened the East Jerusalemites to American citizens living in Israel who have the right to vote in U.S. elections.

Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that 'the rule we should go by is that the right to vote in PA elections should be granted to residents who will be part of the PA. Since Jerusalem will not be part of the PA, if we allow the Arabs of East Jerusalem to vote, it would be interpreted as if we were dividing Jerusalem.'

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Education Minister Limor Livnat and Minister without Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi were strongly opposed to allowing East Jerusalemites to vote in PA elections, as were the Likud 'rebels.' MK Uzi Landau said the battle over Jerusalem is just beginning and Israel shouldn't give away political benefits without getting anything in return.

Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim, who supports the disengagement plan, expressed reservations, saying that a decision now to allow East Jerusalemites to vote has ramifications for Jerusalem's future. 'When we negotiate and discuss the status of Jerusalem, there will be time to discuss this, too,' Boim said.

MK Yossi Sarid (Yahad-Meretz) called on the government to allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote. Sarid said that the 200,000 Palestinians there are very much part of the Palestinian people and any attempt to separate them is artificial and won't last.

MK Reshef Chayne (Shinui) seconded Sarid's call. In his view, it's pathetic that every time the Palestinians request something, the Israeli right immediately objects even when what is at issue is clearly in Israel's interest.

MK Shaul Yahalom (National Religious Party) said there is no doubt that the Arabs of East Jerusalem are Israeli citizens, so there is no reason to allow them to vote in PA elections. That would jeopardize Israeli sovereignty over a united Jerusalem, he said.

In recent days, the U.S. has conveyed messages to Israel demanding that Jerusalem's Arabs be allowed to take part in PA elections. An American source said that the prevailing idea is to hold elections along the lines of those held in 1996, and that nonparticipation by Jerusalem's Arabs will foment political arguments in the PA and will hurt moderate Palestinians.

A prominent legal authority said yesterday that, contrary to a prevalent misconception, the Oslo Accords do not require Israel to allow voting in East Jerusalem beyond the one-time elections already held. (It was assumed that future elections would take place after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.) Legal opinions along these lines have been presented to the political echelon.