Jonathan Zausmer

Jerusalem has an Arab-Israeli candidate for mayor: Meet Waleed Abu Tayeh

Credit: Tiyeh Matwali

For the first time in modern Israeli history, there is such a candidate who is more than qualified and willing to take on this job. Several attempts in the past by various other Arab candidates to run as an Arab member of the city council have failed. Until now the vast majority, if not all Arab residents of East Jerusalem have not participated in mayoral and municipal elections. Today things are different.

Introducing Waleed Abu Tayeh. Waleed is originally from Nazareth but for many years he is a permanent resident of Jerusalem. He is a qualified attorney, also qualified in accountancy. Waleed has a doctorate, has studied both in Israel and abroad and has built himself up by hard work, entrepreneurship, and a steady vision of achieving his goals. Waleed is a citizen of Israel and a member of the new party Kol Ezraheha (All its Citizens) led by Avrum Burg and Professor Faisal Azaiza: a registered political party that sees a vision of an Israel that embraces all its citizens, no matter what race, creed, gender or ethnicity. It seeks equality and social integration while each ethnic group can feel secure and proud of its own identity. And it is firmly against the occupation, which it hopes to see resolved by dialogue and smart politics, so that Israel can finally become a true democracy and not an occupying power.

Waleed will be running as a mayoral candidate and the leader of a new party specifically for the upcoming municipal elections, called Kol Toshaveha (All Its Residents). It’s important to note that Waleed worked at the Ministry of Finance early in his career and has hands-on experience of budgets, financing, and the complex job of finding resources in the Ministry of Finance and the bureaucratic networks of state. In addition, he is an entrepreneur, not a bureaucrat, so vision and smart thinking are part of his credo. 

But we thought that East Jerusalem citizens never vote. What has changed? 

In an in-depth interview with Waleed it became clear to me that this complex situation will very likely take a different path. Firstly and foremostly it appears that East Jerusalem citizens are sick and tired of not being seen, recognized or given equal access to resources. Secondly, without going into the complexity of politics, religion and various so-called “fatwas” that prevailed in the past, Waleed has, according to him and his team, managed to find the key to the electorate in East Jerusalem and the green light from preferably unnamed yet legitimate sources: they understand that change and equality must take place and they see the need for equity in the distribution of resources, land and basic rights that are critical for East Jerusalem Arab residents, for an improved quality of life, education, facilities for the children, civil infrastructure, security and more. Also to be noted is that within the population of  Arab citizens of Jerusalem, some 60,000 have full Israeli citizenship with no pressures or restraints to vote. At a threshold of approximately 7000 votes per candidate, the potential for more than one such member entering the city council is realistic – on the assumption that they will come out to vote.

And while this new development may raise some eyebrows, Waleed sees himself as a leader for all Jerusalemites: Jews, Christians, Moslems, Orthodox, and the Jerusalem population at large including members of all the faiths that prevail in both East and West Jerusalem.

With respect to the current situation, Moshe Lion is the mayor of Jerusalem and is running yet again in the coming municipal elections, however it seems that he does not have a challenger at this time and it is doubtful as to whether he is running with a party behind him or for mayor alone. What is clear is that he is the single candidate for mayor, or was, until Waleed showed up and signed up for election. Waleed also contemplates creating a list of candidates to represent his party for the city council, however this is, as yet, undecided. At a minimum threshold of approximately 7000 votes per candidate, the potential for more than one such member entering the city council is realistic – on the assumption that they will come out to vote.

A brief glance at some very basic data will highlight the deep division between East and West Jerusalem and the neglect of the East Jerusalem Arab population: The city as a whole has a population of approximately 970,,000 of which 60% are Jews and 40% are Arabs

  • East Jerusalem lacks 1,670 classrooms (data 2021 ACRI)
  • Density of living in homes, 6 per home in East Jerusalem as compared to 3.2 in West Jerusalem (ACRI 2019)
  • Poverty rates in Jerusalem are the highest in Israel, and there is a widening gap between the Jewish and Palestinian populations.
  • 32% of Palestinian children in Jerusalem do not finish 12 years of school education as opposed to 1.5% of Jewish children
  • The number of classrooms for Palestinian children is approximately half of those for Jewish children

We can continue with these shocking statistics but the facts are that the Palestinian citizens of East Jerusalem do not get an equal proportionate share of resources (sometimes less than half compared to West Jerusalem) – this relates to education, social services, connection to running water, building rights and more. 

Other disturbing facts – a resident of East Jerusalem that lives outside of the city where his center of life is not in Jerusalem loses Jerusalem citizenship. An Arab resident of East Jerusalem that moves to the West Bank, loses his or her right to return to Jerusalem. According to Waleed some 30,000 people have lost their resident rights and properties due to these rules. Add to this the scarcity of land allowed for building in East Jerusalem: Arab residents (approximately 20 sq kms, as opposed to 45 sq kms for Jewish Israelis). It is clearly time for change

While some may see Waleed as a dreamer there are others who see him as a visionary: If as he predicts, the East Jerusalem residents are looking for change, and it seems that way, we could see Waleed Abu Tayeh as the next mayor.

About the Author
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.
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