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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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Will East Jerusalem Residents Participate in Municipal Elections on October 30?

Filed under: Jerusalem, Palestinians

Will East Jerusalem Residents Participate in Municipal Elections on October 30?
Gheith is sworn in as governor of Jerusalem by Mahmoud Abbas. (Arab press)

Israel arrested the head of Fatah Tanzim in east Jerusalem, Adnan Gheith, and his intelligence officer, Jihad al-Faqih, on October 20, 2018.

Nobody protested the arrests – not in east Jerusalem and not in the Arab world. On October 22, 2018, Gheith was released after paying a fine but kept under house arrest in the Wadi Joz neighborhood of Jerusalem.  Though Adnan Gheith was appointed in August 2018 by the Palestinian Authority as the governor of Jerusalem and Mahmoud Abbas’ top representative in the city, he was still arrested like a criminal.

Gheith is sworn in as governor of Jerusalem by Mahmoud Abbas.
Gheith is sworn in as governor of Jerusalem by Mahmoud Abbas. (Arab press)

The quiet in which the arrest was received in Jerusalem tells us much about the mood in east Jerusalem. Residents there do not want the Palestinian Authority to spread its influence in the city, and to some degree, they welcome Turkish involvement instead of the PA.

In meetings I had two weeks ago in east Jerusalem, I sensed that although east Jerusalemites will not participate in the municipal elections on October 30, 2018, Israel has to prepare for the possibility that they will vote in the elections in four years.

[Residents of Jerusalem – even if not Israeli citizens – may vote in municipal elections.]

Several Arab lists were primed to run in the Jerusalem elections, but the candidates were scared off by Gheith’s Tanzim thugs.

The Need for Passports

There are several reasons for east Jerusalemites to move in Israel’s direction.

A process of the dismantlement of the Palestinian Authority (PA) into its regional components can be seen today in the West Bank. Hebron is developing its independent lines of behavior, and the leaders there distance themselves from the PA in Ramallah. And the same is true about Jenin.  East Jerusalem also prefers to go its separate way.

But, there are also specific motives in east Jerusalem. Currently, the east Jerusalemites are residents in the city and not Israeli citizens, and the general mood was satisfied with this status. We heard from the residents that they prefer stability over democracy, and the issue of becoming Israeli citizens was not high on their priority.  While these residents had no passport, they were able to get Jordanian and Israeli temporary travel documents.  

But there are several developments that are pushing the east Jerusalemites closer to Israel. One is the decision of Saudi Arabia not to accept the temporary travel documents that relate to Palestinians seeking to make pilgrimages to Saudi holy sites. This includes the UNRWA documents that relate to Palestinians in Lebanon, Gazans who live in Jordan, and the east Jerusalemites.

This decision puts the east Jerusalemites in the dilemma of choosing permanent passports. PA passports are not desired,  and the Jerusalem Palestinians’ dilemma is between securing Jordanian or Israeli documents.

Jordan was quick to offer a solution. The Jordanian bureau of commerce sent a delegation to Jerusalem to arrange Jordanian passports – but the Saudis rejected the Jordanian offer because they were not “real” passports. Why? Because Jordan was not ready to grant citizenship to the Palestinians. This may concern the Palestinian citizens in Jordan itself that not all of them have a “national ID,” that is to say equal status with the native Jordanians.  And they also are liable to be denied entry to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

The choice left to them is to apply for full Israeli citizenship. I sense that the application for the Israeli citizenship is becoming more popular, but Israel is also reluctant to be generous in this respect.

Feeling unwanted by all parties may push east Jerusalemites into the arms of Turkey’s Erdogan, and Israel must be careful in this respect.

A Final Word on the “Governor” of Jerusalem

Gheith in a firebrand pose
Gheith in a firebrand pose in a “Fatah Jerusalem” poster. (Screenshot)

Why did Mahmoud Abbas appoint Gheith in the first place? Because of his disappointment at the failure of senior Fatah officials to meet the challenge of the United States moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. And what was worse – Hamas attracted world attention by using the embassy as a reason for its border violence. The appointment of Gheith came to “wake” Jerusalem and begin a more aggressive campaign. Indeed, he and his Tanzim thugs, who are considered to be gangsters by the east Jerusalemites, began to scare the merchants into launching strikes – and they did not like it. The dismissed echelon of Fatah officials understood this and refrained from scaring the people – but Abbas did not understand this and paid the price. Our sources told us that the information that enabled Geith’s arrest came from the merchants.