Palestinians start campaign
JERUSALEM – With banners and colorful balloons, candidates opened campaigning for the Palestinian parliament Tuesday despite uncertainty over whether the Jan. 25 election will take place as scheduled.
The campaign’s first day provided a sampling of the tensions, including a dispute with Israel over allowing residents to vote in East Jerusalem and street chaos in the Gaza Strip, that have led some senior Palestinian leaders to urge postponement.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, already facing dissent within his Fatah movement and strong competition from the Islamic group Hamas, suggested a day earlier that the election could be delayed if Israel insisted on barring East Jerusalem residents from casting votes there.
But leaders of Hamas, which is proving a tough challenger in its inaugural run for legislative seats, on Tuesday reiterated demands that the election take place on time. Hamas is eager to capitalize on momentum gained in earlier rounds of municipal elections, during which it captured a surprising number of local council positions.
In the contested eastern portion of Jerusalem, Israeli police detained the leader of an independent Palestinian party and prevented a second candidate from holding a separate campaign kickoff event.
The voting dispute symbolizes the larger battle over East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel after the 1967 Middle East War but is claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of a future state.
Israel has allowed voting in East Jerusalem by agreement with the Palestinians but characterized that as an exception to the prohibition on political activity. During parliamentary elections in 1996 and in balloting for Palestinian Authority president a year ago, residents cast votes at a handful of local post offices.
Israeli officials threatened to forbid such an arrangement this time as long as Hamas is on the ballot.
But Israeli officials have given mixed signals, saying they were considering possible alternatives that would allow East Jerusalem residents to cast ballots. Israel has sought to make clear its objection to participation by Hamas but does not want to be blamed for delaying the elections.
Palestinian leaders say the election would carry no legitimacy unless ballots are marked in East Jerusalem, which has 220,000 Palestinian residents but accounted for relatively few votes in last year’s presidential race.