Palestinian Leaves Jerusalem Mayoral Race, Claiming Coercion

(Bloomberg) -- A Palestinian businessman who had taken the unusual decision to run for Jerusalem mayor said he’s withdrawing from the race after Israel began looking into his residency status and Palestinians pressured him to drop out.

“It seems that entrenched political interest groups on both sides hope to maintain the status quo and will stop at nothing to prevent forward progress,” Aziz Abu Sarah wrote on his Facebook page. Voters will go to the polls Oct. 30.

Abu Sarah’s party Al-Quds Lana (Our Jerusalem), and a second Palestinian list called Al-Quds Baladi (Jerusalem, My City), had announced plans to run for city council seats to represent Jerusalem’s 900,000 Arabs, who make up one-third of the city’s population.

Palestinians have announced bids for the council in the past but were intimidated into dropping out by other Arabs, who accused them of collaborating with the enemy and legitimizing Israel’s hold on the eastern part of the city captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war. Most of the international community does not recognize Israeli control of Jerusalem, although the U.S. moved its embassy to the western part of the city in May.

Voting Rights

Of the 2.9 Palestinians living under Israeli rule in the West Bank, only Jerusalem residents have Israeli identity cards that allow them access to Israeli social services, freedom of movement in Israel and the right to vote in municipal elections -- though not national ones. Another 1.8 million Arabs of Palestinian origin are Israeli citizens with full legal rights, and can vote in national elections.

The Population and Migration Authority said in a statement that it couldn’t address Abu Sarah’s concern about his residency card, as their offices are closed during the Jewish holiday season. Any inquiry into his residency status would be an administrative issue rather than a political one, the authority said in the statement, without confirming that any inquiry is underway.

The Palestinian head of the local Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Atallah Hanna, issued a statement this month urging any Arabs running for Jerusalem city council to reconsider.

“They will not be able to do anything positive for their people, and even their presence will be exploited to promote the so-called democratic state,” Hanna’s statement said.

Abu Sarah said his entire list was withdrawing from the race, after “this new challenge to my residency leaves no legal route open for running for mayor or city council.” He added that he hoped Al Quds Baladi would “be able to break through.”

Ramadan Dabash, head of the Al Quds Biladi list, said he still intends to run in the elections. Dabash has said he aims to stop demolitions of Arab homes in eastern Jerusalem; build schools, day care and community centers in the city’s Arab neighborhoods; and create jobs for Arab youths.

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