Our friends in Meretz had mixed results in the recent municipal elections. MK Nitzan Horowitz lost the mayoralty, drawing a respectable 38 percent of the vote against the long-time liberal and popular incumbent Ron Huldai. But Meretz succeeded in winning the largest number of seats of any party in the Tel Aviv city council.
In Jerusalem, however, even running on a joint slate with the Labor party, Meretz lost one of its three seats. Our Jerusalem blogger Laura Wharton has been reelected to the city council, but is temporarily prevented by illness from writing on it immediately (she’s recovering from appendicitis). She promises to get back to blogging soon, however, with plenty to say on this and other topics.
“For Jerusalem Arabs, municipal elections are a Jewish game” [The Times of Israel, Oct. 22] . . . “I came here even though I know the number of voters in Beit Safafa will be particularly low,” [Meir] Margalit told The Times of Israel as he debriefed a teenager wearing a bright green T-shirt on voting procedures, handing him a pile of Meretz ballots to distribute to potential voters as samples. …
Enclosed between the Jewish neighborhoods of Gilo, Katamonim, and Malha in southern Jerusalem, the story of Beit Safafa differs from that of Jerusalem’s other Arab neighborhoods. Half the village lay within Israeli jurisdiction since 1949 and was united with the other half following the Six Day War of 1967. In stark contrast to most Palestinians living in Jerusalem who only hold residency cards, some 70 percent of the village’s residents are full Israeli citizens.
That does not make them any less bitter towards city hall, or the central government for that matter. Quiet Beit Safafa erupted in violent protests in February as work began on a new six-lane expressway severing the village in two. Eight months later, anger still keeps residents from casting their ballot.
“Unlike previous years, residents are very angry with the story of Begin Boulevard. There is some kind of call in the village to boycott the elections,” Margalit said. “If every one of the East Jerusalem residents we helped would turn out to vote, we could get 20 seats.”
. . . Ahmad Alayan, a local loitering outside the polling center, said he missed the days of legendary mayor Teddy Kollek.
“He used to come before elections and sit with the village elders, promising to improve housing, roads, things like that,” Alayan said. “The entire village would turn out to vote for him. People still talk about him. Nowadays, you’d be lucky to see the mayor pass by the village.”
“Tradition of Not Voting Keeps Palestinians Politically Powerless in Jerusalem” [NY Times, Oct. 22] JERUSALEM — . . .
There are about 360,000 Palestinian residents in this officially united but deeply divided city of 800,000, perhaps 160,000 of them eligible voters. Yet in the 2008 election, 2,744 East Jerusalem Arabs voted, a participation rate of 1.8 percent, compared with 60 percent in the city’s Jewish neighborhoods.
. . . Israel calls the city its eternal capital, and it is the seat of government and home to both the president and the prime minister. . . . The Palestinians, of course, claim Jerusalem as their future capital. Arab residents are left in a kind of suspended animation: most travel on Jordanian documents but have residency permits that entitle them to vote in city elections.
But as part of a broader “anti-normalization” campaign, the Palestinian leadership has for decades warned residents against casting ballots. So a vast majority do not vote, despite the possibility that their large numbers could win a solid blocking minority on the 31-member City Council, if not a winning coalition with sympathetic Israelis.
“The whole thing is not really rational,” said Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University, whose family has 1,300-year roots in Jerusalem. “It’s not by reason that people are guided; it’s by sentiments and feelings and fears and histories.”
Mr. Nusseibeh once advocated Palestinian voting, backing an Arab newspaper publisher who ran for mayor in 1987 but withdrew after his cars were burned and his home vandalized. Yet Mr. Nusseibeh himself has never voted here, either. And he said that the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, with the fate of Jerusalem among the contentious questions on the agenda, make people even more wary that voting could be seen as legitimizing Israel’s control of the city.
A Jerusalem Post article this month detailed a deep disengagement: many Arab residents did not know who was running, when Election Day was, or where the polling stations would be. Some mistakenly assumed an Israeli passport was required.
. . . A spokeswoman for Mr. Barkat said there had never been an Arab member of the Council. Nor are there Arab department heads in City Hall. . . .
Mr. Barkat’s opponent in Tuesday’s balloting [Oct. 22] is Moshe Lion, a former director of the prime minister’s office who moved to Jerusalem from a Tel Aviv suburb to run and is backed by right-wing and ultra-Orthodox forces. Mr. Lion has accused the incumbent of threatening Israel’s sovereignty in the capital by giving “the extreme left” — Meir Margalit, a Council member from the peace-seeking Meretz Party — control of the East Jerusalem portfolio. [Barkat won reelection.]
Mr. Margalit, an Israeli human-rights advocate who worked against the demolition of Arab homes before his election to the Council, has become this season’s most outspoken proponent of Palestinian participation. His slate includes an Arab-Israeli hospital technician, though polls show he is unlikely to make the cut. If Arab residents voted en masse like the ultra-Orthodox minority, Mr. Margalit said in an interview, they could win enough seats not only to demand better garbage pickup and more playgrounds, but to “change history” by blocking the Jewish settlement expansion that they say threatens their future capital and the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I would like to see them be more pragmatic,” Mr. Margalit said. “Ideology is a great thing, but in this specific context, ideology is not the main issue. The main issue is how to save East Jerusalem. In order to do it, they have to do it in the political arena.”