Let’s Vote for a New Jerusalem
The Palestinians of Jerusalem have lost many rights. Thousands have lost the right to live there, and hundreds are losing their homes to ultra-Zionist squatters and master plans aimed at racial division of the city. But one surprising right remains: the right to vote. When Israel conquered East Jerusalem in 1967, it declared that the city had now been eternally reunited: not, as the 1947 UN partition plan had agreed, as an international city, but under Israel’s sole jurisdiction.
Since then, Jewish ownership of Jerusalem has been one of the great non-negotiables, with fact upon fact on the ground (such as the huge settlement blocks ringing it on the east) implanted to cast its unity in stone and concrete.* As a token of its permanence and non-negotiability, its Palestinian citizens were accorded the right to vote in elections to the City council and for its powerful mayor.
But because the Palestinians refused to recognise their city’s de facto annexation, they boycotted its elections.
Israeli journalist Nir Hasson recently asked: what if “Arab Jerusalemites decide to end their 43-year boycott and go to the polls to vote for a candidate of their own in the elections?” Combined with another “If” i.e. a split in the Jewish vote between orthodox and secular (in the person of the aggressively Judaising incumbent Nir Barkat), while “a bunch of secular Jewish leftists, angered by Barkat’s rightist stance, would also likely cast their votes for the Palestinian candidate” so that “10 Palestinian city council members would sit in Safra Square, with one of their own occupying the mayor’s chair”.
Hasson quotes Al-Quds University president Sari Nusseibeh and East Jerusalem “key figure”, journalist Hanna Siniora, who agree that if the Two State option dies “then we would have to think about how to deal with one state” and take part in Jerusalem elections.
Siniora says that when he last proposed ending the voting boycott in 1987, people thought that voting would strengthen the status quo. But “today such a vote would be designed to break the status quo”.
Hasson presents the idea in purely ethnic terms. Maybe a Human Rights slate would bring together a broader spectrum of opinion? And even if it didn’t lead to a takeover of the “mayor’s chair”, the campaign itself would be significant and influential, a dramatic take-off rocket for a single democratic state franchise campaign. And it begs the question: if Jerusalem is indivisible, why shouldn’t the whole country also be kept as One?
Of course there is no way that Israel’s establishment would stand for this. They would redraw boundaries and gerrymander the electorate either to separate the Arab residential areas of Jerusalem into a new electoral district with its own apartheid administration, or to bring in the big settlements around Jerusalem to flood the vote.
But to rig the democratic process in full view, in the throes of an impending election campaign and in the glare of international interest would cost Israel dear in the international legitimacy it craves.
These elections aren’t until 2013. But the possible scenario illustrates well how the vote and civil rights would come to the fore if the two state road block were removed, and the exciting possibilities for campaigning.
The fact that Jerusalem Palestinians already have the vote, and were using it to paint Israel into a corner, could be a flashpoint that lights up the demand for the vote. Maybe now is the time to start making plans.
* It even contrived to write its status into US law, with a series of resolutions such as the latest, of 29 April 2010, in which Congress “calls upon the President and the Secretary of State to repeatedly affirm publicly, as a matter of United States policy, that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the State of Israel” and “reaffirms Israel’s right to take necessary steps to prevent any future division of Jerusalem”.
« 2011: a game-changing year
Fayyad plans economy of dependence for his state »