Arabs Look to Create Earthquake in Jerusalem City Hall

“The only way to force Israel to withdraw and establish a Palestinian state is to get the Arab residents of Jerusalem active.”

By Baruch Yadid | | Topics: Jerusalem
Jerusalem City Hall. Photo by Aviv Hertz/TPS
Jerusalem City Hall. Photo by Aviv Hertz/TPS

(TPS) An Israeli Arab candidate has emerged in the Jerusalem Municipality elections, vying to become mayor, shake up the city council’s balance of power, and flex Arab political muscle.

Inspired by Mansour Abbas, the first Arab Knesset member to join a governing coalition, Fatah activists in eastern Jerusalem are throwing their support behind the candidacy of Walid Abu Tiya, a lawyer and former Finance Ministry official originally from Nazareth.

Arabs have historically boycotted Jerusalem’s municipal elections. Arab parties and individuals have never received enough votes to receive one of the city council’s 31 seats. Historically, Arab participation in local elections has been around five percent.

“In broad circles it is becoming clear that the boycott of the elections for the Jerusalem municipality is a mistake,” Samer Singilawi, a Fatah activist in eastern Jerusalem and chairman of the East Jerusalem Development Fund, told the Tazpit Press Service.

“An Arab list has the power to scoop up 10 mandates and bring about a significant change in the situation in Jerusalem,” Singilawi said. “This is the only way we can get budgets that will allow us to establish projects in the east of the city and improve housing and education for the residents. But in order for us to succeed in making a real change, we need the political power of 10-13 candidates and seats in the city council.”

Municipal elections are scheduled for October 31 and Mayor Moshe Lion is the only other candidate to formally announce his candidacy so far.

Walid Abu Tiya’s recent announcement of intention to run for mayor has generated significant buzz. Abu Tiya, a 62-year-old Israeli citizen, has lived in eastern Jerusalem’s Beit Safafa neighborhood for 44 years.

In an editorial published in the Al Quds daily explaining his decision, Abu Tiya wrote, “The only way to force Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and establish a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel is to appeal to the residents of the East Jerusalem to vote and participate in the municipal elections because the only force that threatens the existence of the State of Israel is the demographic force.”

Palestinian activists are aiming for a voter participation rate of 60% to match, or even surpass the Jewish voter participation rate which stands at 50% for municipal elections. Singilawi said a 60% turnout rate would give the Arabs 10 seats, or one-third of the council seats.

Jerusalem has a population of around one million, of whom some 700,000 are eligible to vote. This includes 420,000 Jews and 280,000 Arabs. Arab voters include Israeli citizens as well as roughly 150,000 Palestinian non-citizens who have temporary residence status.

Palestinians with temporary residence are entitled to vote in municipal elections and receive social benefits, but they are not allowed to vote in national elections or hold a mayoral office.

The Arab boycott of local elections dates back to 1967, when Jerusalem was reunited after the Six-Day War. Israel offered citizenship to the residents of the city’s eastern neighborhoods, but the vast majority refused, opting to keep their Jordanian citizenship. The prevailing rationale was that participating in elections would legitimize Israeli control of the city.

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