Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday that the upcoming elections would not take place so long as Palestinians in East Jerusalem are unable to vote in them. His comments come amid a resurgence in Palestinian protests in the city as well as in Gaza.
In January, Abbas announced new legislative elections would be held on May 22 and new presidential elections would follow on July 31 of this year, and would include the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
According to The New Arab, Abbas said Sunday evening at a meeting of the Fatah Central Committee in Ramallah that the roughly 164,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, which Israel has illegally annexed in violation of international law, were not dispensable in the elections, which would be the first such votes since 2006.
"The elections must take place in Jerusalem, our eternal capital, and its people should be allowed to become candidates, vote and take part in campaigns. Anything other than this means returning to the Deal of the Century," a Fatah statement after the meeting said, referring to the widely rejected peace deal pitched by former US President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, that reified existing divisions between Israeli-controlled and Palestinian-controlled areas.
Abbas’ position isn’t exactly new - he’s demanded East Jerusalem’s inclusion since November 2019, amid negotiations with the Hamas-led unity government in Gaza, which he also said must be included in any future vote. A sharp divide in 2006, after Hamas won elections in Gaza, split the Palestinians into two factions that have yet to bury the hatchet enough for new elections to be held.
While the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority administers some parts of the West Bank, only the outskirts of East Jerusalem remain directly under its tutelage, the rest of the city having been annexed by Israel in 1980 against international law, and thus divided from the rest of the West Bank by the prison wall-like separation barrier built around much of the West Bank by Israel between 2000 and 2014.
Of the roughly 314,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, only 150,000 live in the outskirts beyond the separation wall, where the PA holds sway. As a result, the election activities of the majority of Palestinian East Jerusalemites can be disrupted by Israel, as it has been in the past and as they have attempted this time as well. Earlier this month, Israeli police arrested three West Bank candidates for Hamas, which Israel considers a terrorist organization.
Israel has not yet given East Jerusalem participation its approval, although the terms of the 1994 Oslo Peace Accords, which ended the First Intifada uprising, lays out a process for voting at designated post offices. However, the United Nations has expressed its support for their participation.
“It is very important that everyone who is entitled to participate, every Palestinian in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, is able to cast his or her vote,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said at a Thursday press conference.
According to AFP, about 60 candidates in the elections are from East Jerusalem. According to one poll conducted last month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, if the elections had been held that day, a single Fatah list would have carried 43% of the vote, Hamas 30%, with 18% of voters undecided, meaning it’s possible neither major party would be able to form a parliamentary majority.
Fatah’s decision also comes amid a series of demonstrations in Jerusalem and in Gaza. Last week, an Israeli mob in Jerusalem attacked Palestinians and anyone judged to have an "Arabic accent," chanting "death to Arabs" and ransacking several homes. Then, just days later, a Palestinian protest saw more than 100 people injured by Israeli police, including 22 people sent to hospitals, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.
Over the weekend, as many as 700 Gazans demonstrated near one of the checkpoints into Israel after several days of Palestinian militiants in Gaza trading fire with the Israeli Defense Forces. Several West Bank cities also saw protests aimed at Israeli checkpoints, including in Jenin, Nablus, and Hebron.
While Israel has boasted of some of the highest official COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world for its citizens, inside of Gaza, which has been besieged by Israel since 2009 and largely cut off from the world, COVID-19 is continuing to rage, with more than 1,000 new cases being reported each day for the last several weeks. According to aid workers, just a few thousand vaccines have been sent to protect a population of more than two million living in one of the most densely-populated areas on Earth.