Inspired by Mansour Abbas, the first member of an independent Arab party to join a governing Israeli coalition, Fatah activists in eastern Jerusalem are throwing their support behind the candidacy of Walid Abu Tiya in the city’s municipal election.
Originally from Nazareth, Abu Tiya, 62, is a lawyer and former Finance Ministry official who has lived in Jerusalem’s southeastern Beit Safafa neighborhood for 44 years.
Jerusalem’s Arab sector has historically boycotted the city’s municipal elections, and no Arab party or individual has ever received enough votes to secure one of the city council’s 31 seats. Historically, Arab participation in local elections has been around 5%.
“…It is becoming clear that the boycott of the elections for the Jerusalem Municipality is a mistake,” said Samer Singilawi, a Fatah activist and chairman of the East Jerusalem Development Fund.
“An Arab list has the power to scoop up 10 mandates and bring about a significant change in the situation in Jerusalem,” said Singilawi. “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,” he added.
“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,” he said.
Municipal elections are scheduled for October 31, and incumbent Mayor Moshe Lion is the only other candidate to formally announce his candidacy so far.
Abu Tiya’s recent announcement of his intention to run for mayor has generated significant buzz.
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 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%, with the aim of matching or even surpassing the Jewish voter participation rate, which stands at 50% for municipal elections. Singilawi said a 60% turnout rate would give Arabs 10 seats on the city council.
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 permanent residency status.
Palestinians with temporary resident status are entitled to vote in municipal elections and receive social benefits, but are not allowed to vote in national elections or hold 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.