Israel to permit Arab residents to vote in upcoming Palestinian elections

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Tuesday said Israel will permit Arab residents of Jerusalem to vote in upcoming Palestinian elections, a key step toward resolving a standoff that had threatened to derail the balloting. Mofaz said Israel would follow the policy of previous Palestinian elections, including last year's presidential vote, when it permitted a small number of Jerusalem Arabs to cast votes in local post offices. The remainder were permitted to vote in outlying suburbs in the West Bank.

"Israel's policy regarding elections in east Jerusalem will stay like it was," Mofaz told reporters while on a tour near Jerusalem. The arrangements were reached under interim peace agreements in the mid-1990s. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hadn't heard anything official from the Israeli government. "If this is the case, I welcome this position of the Israeli government," he said.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital. The Palestinians claim the eastern sector of the city as capital of a future state.

Israel had been threatening to prevent voting in Jerusalem because the Islamic group Hamas, which is committed to Israel's destruction, is running in the vote. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the election would be canceled if Palestinians in east Jerusalem weren't allowed to vote.

Mofaz's announcement came a day before a team of U.S. envoys were scheduled to arrive to help resolve the dispute, reports the AP. I.L.

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