Friday, December 23, 2005

Coming Battle for Jerusalem

In a sunny Rome, everyone is preparing to celebrate another Christmas. Here, it will be the big-time premier of the new pope. Not a small thing around here - and elsewhere.

But it's not only in religious terms there is reason to look towards Jerusalem and the Holy Land these days.

The twin elections to the Palestine and the Israeli Parliament in January and March will shape the political environment that may or may not make it possible to move forward with a peace process.

First is the Palestine elections on January 25th.

As expected, they are hitting problems over the issue of East Jerusalem.

Formally but illegally incorporated into Israel and the rest of Jerusalem, its inhabitants don't enjoy the rights of Israel and are now increasingly being dened the right to be part of Palestine. The Israeli authorities have announced that for the first time no sort of voting will be allowed in East Jerusalem.

This was a tricky issue in the Palestine presidential election last year, and now I guess that the Israeli attitude to some extent is influenced by the fact that there will be the Knesset elections in March.

While President Abbas has indicated that he might even postpone the entire election because of the dispute, the opposition in Hamas seems to want it to go ahead.

In a way it probably suits them just fine. They can agitate even stronger against the Israelis, and they can claim that President Abbas has achieved very little with his more moderate policies. It all plays into their hands - and increases the possibility that they will be the big winners in the election.

If that were to be the case, it would greatly complicate a number of issues. Officially, Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation, and we are not supposed to have anything whatsoever to do with such.

Some in Israel and the US are even saying that Hamas should not be allowed to run in the elections. But in the Iraq elections, even those that had both urged and practized violence against the US and others were allowed to take part. That they did so was even considered as some sort of success - they were drawn into the political process.

So we'll have to see what happens.

Key will be if the White House and the European Union can get Israel to modify its hard line on voting in East Jerusalem. As a bare minimum, they should allow in 2006 what they allowed in 2005.

We have no reason to play into the hands of the extremists.

Jerusalem should be a city of peace.

Haaretz - Israel News - Hamas pushes for immediate elections