Israel's Cabinet will vote next week on whether to allow Palestinians to vote in Jerusalem during Palestinian parliamentary elections, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said. Approval is expected.
Olmert told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a phone conversation on Tuesday that Cabinet would vote on the matter at its weekly meeting on Sunday, according to a statement from Olmert's office. Rice called Olmert for an update on the condition of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who remains hospitalized after a massive stroke.
If the Cabinet approves the plan, it would resolve a dispute that threatened to derail the Jan. 25 election.
Israel had threatened to prevent the voting in Jerusalem, which had been allowed in previous elections, because of the presence on the ballot of Hamas, a militant group pledged to the destruction of Israel. A Cabinet decision to allow the voting to go forward would be contingent on Hamas not participating, Olmert's statement said.
Israeli officials gave conflicting accounts as to whether the proposal would pass.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Tuesday that Israel would allow Jerusalem voting along the same lines as 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.
But Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said there would be no voting in Jerusalem.
"Israel is of the opinion -- and it was an opinion widespread when Prime Minister Sharon was still functioning as a decision-maker -- that under the present circumstances residents of east Jerusalem are not to be allowed to vote in Jerusalem itself but only in the adjoining [West Bank] villages," he said.
The dispute reflects internal Israeli politics. Shalom is in Likud, the hard-line party Sharon left to set up his centrist Kadima, which Mofaz joined. Israel's parliamentary elections are March 28.
Since Kadima holds a majority in the Cabinet, the proposal is likely to pass.
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.
On Tuesday, Israel's Security Cabinet recommended that the government boycott elected Hamas representatives unless the group accepts Israel and lays down its weapons, said security officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose details.
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 on Monday that he had received assurances from the US that Jerusalem voting would be allowed.