Israel to allow Palestinian voting in east Jerusalem

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that the Cabinet would be asked next week to approve a proposal to allow Palestinians living in east Jerusalem to vote in upcoming Palestinian elections. If Cabinet approves the plan to allow voting in the dispute city, it would resolve a dispute that threatened to derail the Jan. 25 election.

Olmert told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a phone conversation that Cabinet would vote on the matter at its weekly meeting on Sunday. Rice called for an update on the condition of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was hospitalized after a massive stroke.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Tuesday that Israel would allow Jerusalem voting along the same lines of previous Palestinian elections, when it permitted some residents to cast absentee ballots in local post offices. The remainder of voters cast ballots in outlying West Bank suburbs.

"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 had not heard anything official from the Israelis. "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.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had said the election would be canceled if Palestinians in east Jerusalem weren't allowed to vote, but said in a televised address Monday that he had received assurances from the U.S. that Jerusalem voting would be allowed. 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. N.U.

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