Sonia Nettnin: Parting Palestine's Political Sea
Parting the Political Sea: Expand Jerusalem Post Offices, Create Polling Stations
By Sonia Nettnin
The Palestinian National Authority and Israel (through U.S. intervention) agreed to follow the 1996 election procedures for next week’s Palestinian Legislative Council Elections. Through their mutual agreement Israel allowed approximately 6,000 Jerusalemite citizens to vote in Jerusalem post offices for the past, two elections.
On Sunday Israel’s Cabinet decided to allow the same number of Jerusalemite citizens to vote by casting absentee ballots in Jerusalem’s five, post offices. They make up an estimated 5 per cent of the Palestinians eligible to vote in Jerusalem. Next Wednesday where will the remaining eligible Palestinian voters in Jerusalem go? With regards to Israeli leadership who will part the political sea to expand the post offices and create polling stations?
The Coalition for Jerusalem asked Israeli authorities to expand the Israeli-managed post offices to accommodate the estimated 100,000 eligible Palestinian voters in Jerusalem. In 2005 Israeli forces closed the voter registration centers. At this point in time the coalition has not received a response from Israeli authorities about increasing the area of the post offices to accommodate voting for all Jerusalemite citizens. This expansion includes trailers to be stationed outside the post office premises, as proposed by American mediators, according to The Coalition for Jerusalem.
Whoever is willing to step up to the leadership plate within the Israeli authorities and propose the expansion of post offices and the use of other locations as polling stations to meet voter capacity may be dubbed an Israeli leader for peace in history books. The PLC elections have future ramifications for the peace process and the Israeli leaders who help Jerusalemite citizens vote may create an electoral stepping stone for his political party in Israel’s upcoming elections.
In the past, two elections approximately 95 per cent of the eligible Jerusalemite-citizen voters that remained “…were obliged to travel great distances to reach the Palestinian-managed polling stations in the districts of Jerusalem,” according to one of the coalition’s spokespersons. “Israeli continued to refuse to open negotiations with the PNA to discuss improved elections modalities per the recommendations of the EU mission to the Presidential elections 2005, and the American National Democratic Institute NDI. The Coalition of Jerusalem stepped in and proposed to the PNA, the EU and Americans who intervened as mediators that Mosques and Churches, UN and NGO offices be used to hold elections to accommodate the number of voters, and ensure voting in ballot boxes directly.”
Since the PNA and Israel reached an agreement based on the Oslo Interim Agreement the coalition maintains its position that the 1996 election procedures do not guarantee free, transparent and democratic elections; but the expansion of post offices with ballot boxes, along with the use of schools, mosques, churches, and offices as polling stations could meet voters’ needs thereby increasing voter turnout. Israel closed the voter registration centers. Are they willing to reopen them?
According to the coalition, “Annex II article VI of the agreement, does not specify the number of voters. Israel did, through manipulation. The Agreement provides for a receptacle; the shape and size of which should be agreed between the two parties. Israel manipulated the agreement and used post-office boxes.”
Also, they asked that Israeli authorities shut off the cameras in post offices for Election Day. People should not feel intimidated and monitoring them while they wait in long, crowded lines creates an oppressive atmosphere.
By accommodating voters and removing movement restrictions people would vote in a timely, efficient fashion. The nonuse of cameras will encourage voter participation.
The PLC elections will not only be a crucial day in Palestinian modern history but the Israeli-Palestinian peace process also. Since the last PLC elections ten years have passed and the geopolitical landscape has a multitude of walls. It includes one made of concrete that is roughly 500 km long. The occupation has caused overwhelming bloodshed and tears, so the people need positive changes on the ground. Both Israeli and Palestinian can make these positive changes a permanent reality for their peoples.
Next Wednesday Palestinians will make important electoral decisions. Their votes determine who will be their legislative representatives. While the people struggle under desperate, living conditions they are more determined than ever to achieve freedom. The legislative representatives who take office must facilitate the international community into diplomatic intervention. If the people are free of the occupation then they will achieve self-determination through self-government. Which party will help bring the keys back to life?
First the people need the means to vote. An election arrangement must be implemented that meets the needs of all voters within the Jerusalem electoral districts.
The new, legislative leaders will play an integral role in the peoples’ future. Their political engagement requires energy, ideas and strategies so they can facilitate a breakthrough.