Local and regional elections in Israel highlight deep divisions | News | DW | 30.10.2018
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Local and regional elections in Israel highlight deep divisions

About 6 million Israeli citizens and residents over the age of 17 are eligible to cast their votes. The most controversial areas are the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.

The elections will see officials elected to some 251 city, town and regional councils across Israel — including in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa.

Turnout by the 6 million eligible voters will be a key indicator for next year's general elections.

There are 10,000 polling stations, which are set to stay open until late on Tuesday, and the counting of votes will start immediately afterwards.

The election is most controversial and significant in the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.

Golan Heights

Minority, Arab-speaking residents of the Druze community are voting in four villages in the Golan Heights — Majdal Shams, Ein Qinya, Bukata and Masadeh — for the first time since Israel captured the region from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967

Druze community elders have threatened to make outcasts of anyone taking part in the elections.

"Candidates and those who come to vote will have a religious and social prohibition put upon them," said Sheikh Khamis Khanjar. "What bigger punishment is there than this?"

"When you are in a state that is giving you all your rights, why wouldn't you vote," said Sahar Said Ahmed, referring to the Druze living in Golan, who enjoy greater economic prosperity than their brethren living in war-scarred Syria.

The Druze are a fiercely independent Arab minority

The Druze are a fiercely independent Arab minority

About 22,000 Druze live on the Golan and consider themselves Syrian, despite living under Israeli rule for more than 50 years. Israel has offered citizenship, but most Druze have rejected it.

The international community has never recognized Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights.

East Jerusalem

Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who have not taken Israeli citizenship are eligible to vote in the local elections.

But most of the 300,000 Palestinians have boycotted the process for decades, refusing to recognize Israel's control of East Jerusalem.

Israel captured the predominantly Arab eastern part of the holy city during the Six-Day War of 1967.

Read more: The Druze: The Middle East's most persecuted people?

The Six-Day War of 1967 and it's consequences

Jerusalem's status remains one of the core issues of the decadeslong Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel sees the entire city as the ancient capital of the Jewish people. The Palestinians also lay claim to the holy city and have repeatedly insisted during peace negotiations that the eastern part of the city be the capital of their future state.

Read more: Muslim leaders declare 'East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine'

Key figures for mayor of Jerusalem

The front-runners in the Jerusalem mayoral race are:

  • Zeev Elkin, Israel's minister for Jerusalem affairs, who has received the backing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
  • city council member Moshe Lion, backed by ultra-Orthodox voters
  • secular candidate and city council member Ofer Berkovitch.

The ultra-Orthodox make up some 10 percent of Israel's population and wield particular influence in Jerusalem. The conservative city has previously had an ultra-Orthodox mayor.

There are four candidates vying to take over from the current mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who is leaving office after two five-year terms to pursue national office as part of Netanyahu's Likud party.

Twenty-one percent of Jerusalem's Jews are secular, like former Deputy Mayor Berkovitch and Barkat.

Palestinians, who make up a third of Jerusalem's population, are mostly boycotting the election.

If no candidate receives at least 40 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held on November 13. 

kw/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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