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Barkat: Jerusalem is Losing its Jewish Majority


Jerusalem opposition Councilman Nir Barkat told the Herzliya Conference on Monday that Jerusalem is in danger of losing its Jewish majority, adding the Zionist majority has already been lost. Barkat, who lost his bid in the last Jerusalem mayoral race, stated that despite government efforts towards a 70% Jerusalem Jewish majority, reality in the coming years will be closer to 60%, warning of growing migration and the increasing poverty in the capital.

Wednesday's Palestinian Elections Too Close to Call

By Jim Teeple (VOA News-Ramallah)

Politicians in the Palestinian territories wrapped up a final day of campaigning Monday, ahead of a crucial vote Wednesday, when Palestinians will go to the polls to elect a new legislature. Wednesday's vote has developed into a contest between the mainstream Fatah Party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the Islamic terrorist group, Hamas.

Downtown Ramallah was a sea of campaign posters and a chorus of sound trucks as Palestinians were bombarded with last minute appeals for their vote on Wednesday. Voters will go to the polls to choose 132 legislators from more than 400 candidates running in a hotly contested campaign.

Last year, Palestinians went to the polls and elected Mahmoud Abbas as president, but now one year later, Abbas' Fatah Party is struggling to maintain its grip on power.

Polls show Fatah is in a statistical dead heat with Hamas, the avowedly Islamist terrorist party sworn to Israel's destruction. Even in Ramallah, a stronghold of Fatah support, voters, like a man who called himself Maher, said he would vote for Fatah on a national list of candidates, but for Hamas in local district elections, which will also be decided on Wednesday.

"I hope Fatah will win because of Fatah's experience in leading Palestine. We are talking of years of leading Palestine," said the man. "I also would like Hamas to win some chairs in elections, but we hope Fatah will win in the large chairs in the elections."

Just down Ramallah's main street, another man who asked not to be identified said he would vote for Hamas because of the organization's uncompromising stand toward Israel.

The voter said he does not believe Israel's threats not to negotiate with Palestinians if Hamas wins the elections. He said Hamas is the only party he trusts when it comes to dealing with Israel, because he said Hamas is the only party that would not give up any further Palestinian territory to Israel.

Hamas is categorized as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union. The U.S. Congress has threatened to cut all funding to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas joins any future government. Israel said it would not negotiate with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas, although former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, now a member of the centrist Kadima party, has said Israel would reconsider its position, if Hamas renounces violence and disarms after the election.

In a hint that Hamas might be amenable to negotiations with Israel, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip said Monday that Hamas might consider third party talks with Israel, if Israel releases Hamas prisoners and halts attacks against Hamas. Al-Zahar said, "negotiation is not a taboo." Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and its military wing has been involved in scores of attacks.

Meanwhile more than 900 foreign observers have fanned out across the West Bank and Gaza Strip to monitor Wednesday's polling and post-elections developments. Former President Jimmy Carter leads a joint delegation from the Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute. Leslie Campbell, NDI's Mideast regional director said two issues seem to be dominating the run-up to the vote.

"I would say from a technical vantage point it has to be freedom of movement and whether or not the voters, candidates and others are free to do what they need to do," he said. "From an elections issue vantage point the larger issue is probably the participation of Hamas in the sense that it leads to very hot competition. It has caused a lot of international consternation. So, therefore, there is so much at stake that it has raised the temperature of the election."

Among those voting on Wednesday will be Arab residents of East Jerusalem. A number of East Jerusalem residents will be allowed to cast ballots in Israeli post offices in East Jerusalem, while others will be allowed to travel to the West Bank to vote. Israel said it would pull back some troops and ease restrictions at West Bank checkpoints in order to allow Palestinians access to the polls.

Rice: Prospect of Hamas Role in Palestinian Government Problematic

By David Gollust (VOA-Washington)

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday the prospect of a role in a Palestinian government for the Islamic group Hamas poses a practical problem for the United States, which views Hamas as a terrorist organization. Analysts believe Hamas is poised for a strong showing in Wednesday's Palestinian election.

The secretary is not saying what the United States would do if victories in Wednesday's legislative elections propel Hamas into the Palestinian government. But she did say the presence in a government of a group long classified by the United States as a terrorist organization, and one which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, would present what she termed a very practical problem for U.S. policy-makers.

Political analysts in the region expect a strong election showing for Hamas, based partly on divisions within the mainstream Palestinian political movement Fatah and a perception that the organization founded by Yasir Arafat is ridden with corruption.

At a joint press appearance Monday with Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, the secretary said the United States is not about to change its policy toward Hamas, which is blamed for scores of anti-Israeli terrorist attacks that have killed U.S. citizens as well.

She said that, in addition to the terrorism factor, the Palestinian Authority through its acceptance of the international Middle East peace road map is committed to a renunciation of violence and the dismantling of terrorist organizations, while Hamas is not.

"It probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: it's hard to have negotiations with a party that you do not recognize its right to exist," she said. "And so if we indeed do want a path to peace between Israel and the Palestinian people, it is going to have to be one in which Palestinians and any Palestinian government is committed to a peaceful path."

The United States has pressed Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas, without success thus far, to disarm Hamas and other armed groups in line with his often-expressed slogan of one authority, one gun.

In a statement last month, the international Middle East quartet -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- said a future Palestinian cabinet should include no member who has not committed to Israel's right to exist and an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism.

Top Israelis Huddle to Assess Hamas' Political Threat

By VOA News

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has called a meeting of top military and political officials to discuss the possibility that the radical Hamas movement may make strong gains in upcoming Palestinian elections.

Hamas, whose military wing has claimed scores of attacks against Israel, has called for the destruction of the Jewish state. Surveys ahead of Wednesday's polls show a Hamas slate almost even with Fatah candidates.

Sunday, Israeli cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi was quoted by Reuters as saying that Hamas' presence in a post-election Palestinian Authority would have a "tragic impact" on any future peace talks.

Separately, a published report said the United States is providing financial assistance to boost political support for the ruling Fatah movement. The Washington Post said the U.S. Agency for International Development is using about $2 million to promote the Palestinian Authority ahead of the polls.

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