ARABS-ISRAEL - Dec 21 - Israel Bans Jerusalem Palestinian Vote Over Hamas.
Israel says it will ban East Jerusalem Arabs from voting in a
Palestinian election next month if militant Islamic group Hamas takes
part - a move Palestinian officials said could delay the vote. Israel
allowed Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to vote in Palestinian
Authority elections in 1996 and at the start of the year when they
elected Mahmoud Abbas president. But senior Israeli officials said
Israel will not allow voting in Jerusalem for the Jan. 25 election
because Hamas, which calls for Israel's destruction and has
spearheaded a suicide bombing campaign, is running for the first time.
"It's like allowing al Qaeda to open a polling station in
London," a senior Israeli official said. "This ... will allow
a terrorist organisation ... to gain a majority or be able to
participate in an election at the end of which it will work towards the
destruction of Israel and carry out suicide attacks." Palestinian
officials said the election may be delayed if Israel prevents voting by
East Jerusalem residents. "We cannot hold elections anywhere if the
Palestinians in Jerusalem are not allowed to vote," said senior
Palestinian official Nabil Shaath. But he said any decision to postpone
the election would be made by Abbas only if all factions agree to a
delay. A Hamas spokesman said the group, which is expected to make a
strong showing in the poll, demanded it be held on time. He would not
specify whether that position would remain the same if East Jerusalem
Palestinians could not vote. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem
carry Israeli identity cards and can apply for citizenship but most
choose not to, seeing themselves as the citizens of a future Palestinian
state with East Jerusalem as its capital. PRESSURE FOR DELAY Abbas has
repeatedly said he does not want to postpone the vote, but has been
under pressure for a delay from some Palestinian officials due to a
split in his ruling Fatah movement that has strengthened Hamas.
Hamas's corruption-free reputation and extensive charity network
mean its popularity is rising among Palestinians. Its strong showing in
the first three rounds of municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip, winning in several major cities including the Fatah stronghold of
Nablus, has prompted concern about a Hamas victory in Israel and abroad.
Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said on Wednesday that
Palestinian leaders, Israelis and the international community were
seeking a reason to postpone the election in order to prevent a possible
Hamas win. It said Israel's policy on East Jerusalem might serve
that purpose. Israel says all Palestinian political activity in East
Jerusalem was banned under the 1993 interim Oslo peace accords.
Palestinians dispute this and say Jerusalem residents should play an
active role in Palestinian affairs. Israel captured East Jerusalem in
the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognised
internationally. It sees the eastern part of the holy city as part of
its "eternal and indivisible capital".