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Palestinians Wrap Up Campaigning Ahead of Vote

Israel expelled a second candidate who tried to pray at a holy shrine without a permit.

Friday was the last day of campaigning before Sunday’s vote. Polls indicate Abbas, a former prime minister and deputy to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who died in November, will likely win by a landslide.

Abbas has revived international hopes for Middle East peace by pledging to work with militants to end the violent Palestinian uprising while working on a two-state solution with the Israeli government.

He had planned to cap his campaign with an appearance at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City to underline Palestinians’ claim to it as the capital of a future Palestinian state. But officials close to him said Israeli officials wanted heavy security out of concern he might be targeted by ultra-nationalist Jews. Abbas, who has worked hard to dispel the image that he is Israel’s stooge, did not want pictures of him being shadowed by Israeli security units, according to Reuters.

“God willing, we will visit Jerusalem later,” Abbas told reporters in Ramallah, without elaborating.

Abbas instead visited an Arab neighborhood on the northern edge of East Jerusalem not frequented by Israeli forces.

Also Friday, police detained candidate Mustafa Barghouti, who is running a distant second to Abbas, as he tried to enter the Old City to pray at the same mosque.

“I am coming here to pray in the mosque and now you are arresting me. You are arresting a presidential candidate with a permit to be in Jerusalem,” Barghouti said, according to Reuters.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Barghouti took advantage of a permit allowing him to enter the city for a meeting with a team of American election monitors led by former President Jimmy Carter.

“His obvious objective was to create a public disturbance that would serve his election campaign while abusing the goodwill of the government of Israel,” the ministry said.

After about an hour of questioning, Barghouti was released at a West Bank checkpoint.

Control of east Jerusalem is a contentious issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel captured the area in the 1967 Mideast war, but Palestinians claim it as the capital of a future state.

Israel has agreed to limited campaigning in the disputed city and most of the estimated 120,000 eligible Palestinian voters will have to travel to special polling centers in suburbs.

Former U.S. President Carter, who has been coordinating the international election monitoring effort, said the outlook for free and fair elections is good.

“My hope is that the Palestinians establish a government that will be committed to the peace process and the abhorrence and prohibition and control of any violence,” he said.

The Israeli army has promised a series of steps to help facilitate Sunday’s vote, including a 72-hour pullback from Palestinian population centers.

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