World, Middle East

UN says upcoming Palestinian polls 'critical step'

'Expectations for the holding of elections in Palestine are high,' says UN special coordinator Tor Wennesland

Michael Gabriel Hernandez   | 22.04.2021
UN says upcoming Palestinian polls 'critical step'

WASHINGTON

The first Palestinian elections in 15 years are critical for the legitimacy of Palestine's institutions and efforts to reach unity among its groups, the UN's special coordinator for Middle East peace said on Thursday.

Tor Wennesland said the elections are a "critical step toward" meeting the dual goals, calling on all parties to "provide for, and protect, the rights of Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza to participate in credible and inclusive Palestinian elections."

"In particular, I urge all parties to refrain from any arrests, detention or interrogation based on freedom of opinion, freedom of expression and freedom of association," he said. "Expectations for the holding of elections in Palestine are high."

Wennesland pointed to one incident in occupied East Jerusalem on April 6 where Israel security forces shut down a political meeting at the Ambassador Hotel, calling its manager and the director of Fatah's office in Jerusalem for questioning. Israel bars the Palestinian Authority from carrying out any activities there.

Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem took part in previous elections conducted in 1996, 2005 and 2006. They voted in six Israeli postal centers set up in the city. The votes were then sent by mail to the Palestinian Central Elections Commission.

Ahead of this year's elections, Israel has so far ignored a request from Palestinian officials made more than two months ago to allow elections among Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.

The April 6 raid was just one of several incidents ahead of the polls, Riyad Mansour, Palestine's UN envoy said, urging the council to assist "in preventing any Israeli actions that might obstruct these elections, notably in occupied East Jerusalem."

"We have witnessed in recent days alone the arrests of several candidates, and the impeding or disbanding of meetings of parties and civil society as has been indicated by Mr. Wennesland," he said. "Such unlawful and irresponsible actions must stop at once.”

International law views the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied territories and considers all Israeli settlement-building activity there illegal. Palestinians are seeking East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state while Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its undivided capital.

Palestinians are set to elect a new legislature on May 22 and a president on July 31 after a gap of 15 years.

"The successful competition of inclusive Palestinian elections is a critical step towards renewing democratic legitimacy of the Palestinian government," said Wennesland.

"These elections should also pave the way to uniting Gaza and the West Bank under one single legitimate national authority, which would be an important step towards reconciliation and could advance Middle East peace," he added.

Turning to an alarming uptick in coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip, senior UN humanitarian affairs official Rein Paulsen said the enclave has seen a 150% spike in cases in April with 187 deaths already reported, compared to 61 in March.

Gaza, with its extremely dense population, now constitutes 66% of all cases in the Palestinian territories while only representing 30% of Palestinians living under occupation, Paulsen said.

"Due to the recent surge there are critical shortages of laboratory testing, infection protection and control supplies, and case management drugs and disposables," he warned.

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