[[ Jerusalem Times : Opinion ]]

 

January 8, 2006

 

This Week in Palestine…Behind the News with Hanna Siniora

 

Elections

 

The election campaign is in full swing in Palestine; all the national lists have launched their campaigns on both the national proportional level and in the local districts. The local newspapers are full of advertisement wooing the voters to vote for the various national lists and to local candidates.

 

The local media, especially the three main dailies, for the first time in many years are covering the cost and shoring up their financial standing. The local graphic designers and print shops are flourishing too. Yet, despite all of that, with the campaign ongoing, there is still doubt that the January 25 elections will take place.

 

The main issue remaining is if Jerusalemites in east Jerusalem will be able to vote freely and without interference from the Israeli authorities. Already candidates have been briefly arrested, intimidated and their rallies stopped. The Shin-Bet Israeli Intelligence Service have told most of the candidates in east Jerusalem that they cannot advertise their campaigns or post posters in the Arab streets of east Jerusalem.

 

It is a stark picture compared with the campaign paraphernalia in West Bank and Gaza cities; the thirty-nine candidates for the six seats in East Jerusalem do not have the ability to reach their voters and the ability to acquaint and inform their constituencies about their platforms and position. This issue has to be resolved fast; otherwise it would be ample ammunition for calling off the elections.

 

Another equally sore issue is that less than a couple of thousand voters are registered to vote in Jerusalem out of more than 120,000 who theoretically have the right to vote. The Central Elections Committee and the PA should resolve this point by allowing the voters carrying blue identity cards as East Jerusalem residents to vote by showing their ID cards and not by the voter registration roll. This is an internal Palestinian Issue and decision, but it should not be left to the last minute and create conflict between the public, the PA and the Central Election Committee. In previous elections, the identity cards were allowed and voters’ hands were marked with indelible ink to prevent cheating. This is what should happen now as well.

 

Internal & International Political Developments

 

The majority in the Central Fateh Committee recommended to President Abbas the postponement of the elections, if East Jerusalemites are not allowed freely to campaign and vote. Abbas was and remains adamant that the PLC elections should take place according to schedule. Some believe that the internal disputes within the Fateh movement and the fear of defeat at the polls led many Fateh leaders, foremost PM Ahmed Qurei, to recommend postponement if East Jerusalemites are prevented from voting. Hamas and those who look for change are determined to see the elections taking place on time.

 

Despite the obstacles that Israel is introducing, and with PM Sharon fighting literally for his life and in an induced coma, it seems that acting PM Olmert has so far been unable to take a decision on the Jerusalem issue. Israeli Foreign Minister Shalom has been calling openly that Palestinians in East Jerusalem should not be allowed to vote. The Israeli intelligence service has already begun effectively preventing the conducting of the PLC elections, in a similar manner to the 1996 campaign.

 

The international community, Bush, Blair, Solana, Putin, and the Arab countries are urging the Israeli authority to allow the election process to advance in a similar manner to what was agreed upon by the cabinet of Yitzhak Robin in 1996. So far, it is impossible to assess the outcome of this international approach, Ehud Olmert has to come out with a political decision immediately.

 

In the previous two elections, the 1996 PLC election and the 2005 Presidential election for Mahmoud Abbas, most of the voting was done in the West Bank part of East Jerusalem. The PA should continue to apply pressure that the previous agreements and arrangements should be honored. The holding of the PLC elections are of the utmost importance in order to put an end to the internal strife. The PA has the responsibility to allow alternative venues for voting in Jerusalem,  as was done previously,  urging the voters to come out to vote in great numbers and uphold and respect the results of the elections.

 

A large turnout of international observers is daily arriving to monitor the elections, the people are in the mood to see an active role for the legislative body, let us all work for free democratic elections.

 

 

An End of an era

 

 The massive stroke that PM Ariel Sharon suffered indicates that in Israel a change of leadership is on the way. Sharon, despite his ruthless role against the Palestinian people was the only Israeli leader so far to dismantle settlements completely in Gaza and some in the West Bank. His party, Kadima, was supposed to give him the ability to perform further redeployments and more settlement dismantling. Palestinians are not in agreement with him because they believe that he, in fact, was on the road to draw our borders unilaterally. Palestinians believe that those borders should be the green line, and that unilateral steps should be coordinated steps negotiated directly and openly with President Abbas. Despite the difficult past experience, Abbas and most of our responsible leadership wished him a speedy recovery. What is apparent is that both our people are at the dawn of a new era. The democratic process on January 25 will provide the Palestinian people with new forces, new leaders, new prospects, with better or worse scenarios. On the 28th of March Israeli elections similarly will provide the Israeli people with new leaders. Will Kadima emerge as important when Sharon was at the helm? The future seems quite unclear now, yet the peoples of region will have to pay the price of these two important milestones, let us be hopeful for the better.