Israel held municipal elections yesterday, and Jerusalem’s significant Arab minority largely appears to have continued its longstanding practice of not voting despite retaining the legal right to do so. That boycott is a function of Palestinian nationalist politics; by abstaining from Israeli municipal elections, Palestinian Jerusalemites see themselves as denying legitimacy to Israel’s annexation of and claims over the eastern part of the city. But this year also saw cracks in the status quo, including an historic run for mayor by Palestinian Jerusalemite Ramadan Dabash.

Palestinians’ complete disengagement from Jerusalem politics can rightly be described as self-defeating, as a massive influx of Arab votes would undoubtedly reshape the city government’s priorities to more accurately reflect its demography. However, the status of Palestinian Jerusalemites is far from straightforward and despite nominally being afforded Israeli residency (which includes social services and some local political rights short of national voting privileges), this population exists in a state of legal and political limbo. For those who do seek deeper integration with Israel, full citizenship has been hard to come by. The arrangement governing this population — not quite Israeli, not quite Palestinian — may offer a window into how West Bank Palestinians would fare under annexation.

Some Israeli politicians and pundits supportive of formally absorbing the West Bank have recommended permanent residency status for Palestinians in the annexed territories. Yet this proposal, which should have been temporary in the case of Jerusalem, will not really resolve West Bankers’ civic and nationalist aspirations.

Predominantly Arab areas are severely underserved in the Jerusalem municipal budget, leaving East Jerusalem lagging far behind the city’s western neighborhoods. The Israel-West Bank security barrier, erected in response to the Second Intifada, cuts through East Jerusalem in some places, leaving portions of Jerusalem formally annexed to the city in 1980 physically cut off from the rest of Israel’s “united” capital. Although East Jerusalem has intermittently been at the center of real security concerns, particularly during the Second Intifada, the complete failure to better integrate Palestinian parts of Jerusalem in the five decades after the Six-Day War demonstrates a lack of political commitment on Israel’s part. If Israel has been unable or unwilling to adequately service the Arab population of Jerusalem alone, how can it be expected to administer the entire annexed West Bank in a fair or equitable manner?

East Jerusalem is also a microcosm of annexation because it reflects the theory that as the window for a two-state solution closes, Palestinians will shift from a nationalist struggle to a civil rights campaign. Although the first round of voting in Jerusalem showed the official boycott remain mostly enforced (with only very miniscule upticks in some districts), 58 percent of Palestinians in the city support participating in elections. This desire for political engagement is stifled by the P.L.O. and local nationalist committees which enforce the boycott. Because West Bank annexation would likely upend the existing Palestinian national leadership, public agitation for political rights within Israel could be expected to increase in tandem. Moreover, Jerusalemite Palestinian applications for Israeli citizenship have already increased dramatically in the past decade, from around 200 in 2007 up to over 1,000 annually throughout the 2010s. If Palestinians are unable to achieve sovereignty in their own state, they will naturally seek to share it in Israel.

But many citizenship applications don’t get very far. During the last years of the Second Intifada, Israel declined more applications than it accepted. Denials again surpassed approvals in 2014. As of September 2016, the Interior Ministry greenlit only 84 applications of 4,152 in the preceding two years. 161 were outright turned down and the rest remained pending. This, despite Palestinian Jerusalemites meeting many of the conditions set forth under Israel’s Citizenship Law. Ha’aretz has found the Israeli authorities to be deliberately ignoring certain clauses of the Citizenship Law on the Jerusalem issue and East Jerusalemites’ citizenship problems have become so serious that last year a Supreme Court justice ordered the Interior Ministry to come forward with an explanation of its conduct. Of course, the court is a favorite target of pro-annexation figures in Israeli politics, even though it has not always ruled favorably toward Palestinian petitioners. How effectively the court will be able to deal with Palestinian cases after annexation remains an open question, but recent legislation revoking Palestinians’ ability to appeal directly to the Supreme Court suggests the judiciary’s independence is under fire.

Under the veneer of a united Jerusalem, Palestinian residents face serious hurdles in accessing public services and exercising political rights. If this situation portends anything for the West Bank, it is that annexation will be messy and undemocratic.

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