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West Bank Leaders in Controversy over Forthcoming Municipal Elections

The Military Governor’s order authorizing municipal elections in four West Bank towns has stirred a heated controversy among West Bank leaders. Some favor the idea but others object strenuously to elections held under Israeli supervision. Amman radio which speaks for the Jordanian government has already blasted the elections. King Hussein of Jordan warned West Bank residents yesterday against participation in the elections. Do not “fall into the trap of self rule or a Palestinian state,” he exhorted them in a statement from the palace in Amman. Hussein said the Palestinians would have the right to decide their future only after their liberation. He declared that Israel must withdraw from all of the territories it occupied in the Six-Day War.

According to the order issued by Brig. Gen. Raphael Vardi, the West Bank military commander, elections are to be held within four months in the towns of Jenin, Tulkarem, Kalkilya and Jericho. They will be held according to Jordanian law which enfranchises only male citizens over 21 who have lived for one year or more in their locality and who pay property taxes. The voters will select members of the town councils. The mayors will be nominated by the Ministry of Interior. Because the ballot is restricted to property owners, only a minority of the West Bank population will be eligible to vote. The elections will be the first since 1963 on the West Bank.

The mayors of the four West Bank towns have called for a joint meeting with their colleagues in other towns to devise a common position on the election issue. No date has been set for the meeting. Its timing is expected to depend on the response from Sheikh Mohammed Ali el Jaabari, the influential mayor of Hebron. Jaabari was instrumental in arranging the first conference of West Bank mayors to be held under the Israeli occupation three months ago. As in the former instance, any new conference of West Bank mayors will require the approval of Israeli authorities.

Young elements among the West Bankers who consider their elders “yes-men” of King Hussein, seem to favor the elections as a step toward self-government for the Palestinians. Israeli political circles said the purpose behind the elections was to refresh the West Bank municipal governments which have had no change of leadership in almost nine years. However, the elections could also be interpreted as a sign that Israel intends to retain permanent control over the West Bank. There was no indication of how Israel would react if a large proportion of the eligible voters refused to participate.

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