The Palestinian Authority (PA) has officially asked the Israeli government to allow east Jerusalem-based Palestinians to vote in the upcoming general elections reportedly slated for the upcoming year.
In his annual speech before the U.N. General Assembly in September, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas voiced his intention to call for general elections in the Palestinian territories. Abbas' speech was followed by shuttle diplomacy held by the head of the Palestinian electoral commission, Hanna Naser, in between the Gaza Strip and West Bank. His efforts targeted to bring the views of Palestinian rivals, Fatah and Hamas, together before heading to the general polls.
Hamas, via many of its spokesmen, said they were "well prepared" for any elections and called for simultaneous parliament and presidential polls with its leader Ismail Haniyyeh, affirming to the electoral commission that his group – Gaza Strip's de facto ruler – would do everything to secure the holding of these elections in the blockaded coastal enclave.
With the Israelis having yet to reply to the PA's request, it seems that the issue of Jerusalemites' voting would be the stumbling block in the way of conducting Palestinian elections, proving the view that Israel, for many reasons, will work hard to spoil these elections.
Firstly, allowing Jerusalem-based Palestinians to vote in the Palestinian elections means Israeli-implied recognition of Palestinian rights in east Jerusalem. Israel would most likely ban Palestinians there from voting by using U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the "eternal capital" for Israel.
Despite the fact that Palestinians can practice their right to vote by finding creative solutions to do so, Israel might hinder the whole electoral process in the city by arresting Palestinian candidates there. Israel rounded up dozens of Palestinian MPs following Hamas' victory in the parliamentary elections in 2006 which contributed to benumb the legislative council's activities since then.
The second dynamic that may drive Israel to spoil the elections is the fear that holding elections may restore Palestinian unity between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel spared no effort to fuel the Palestinian split since its outbreak in 2007. Also, many Israeli analysts and commentators opined that the Palestinian division amounts to the highest interest by Israel in the last decades. They also called for their policymakers to do the necessary work to prolong the life of that rift.
The uncertainty of election results is the third factor behind Israeli desire to see these elections fail. Israel fears that the results may come with a Hamas-backed president who may ease the group's activities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A Ramallah-based opinion poll conducted a survey in the city last week and found a Hamas-backed candidate could secure the upcoming presidential polls.
Keeping the status quo in the occupied Palestinian territories is a top priority for Israel as the PA is in high-security coordination with the Israeli side despite the five-year-long political stalemate between the two sides.
* Ph.D. candidate in Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University's Department of International Relations