Cover: What Might Happen if Palestinians Start Voting in Jerusalem Municipal Elections?

What Might Happen if Palestinians Start Voting in Jerusalem Municipal Elections?

Gaming the End of the Electoral Boycott and the Future of City Politics

Published Oct 25, 2018

by Jonathan S. Blake, Elizabeth M. Bartels, Shira Efron, Yitzhak Reiter


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Research Questions

  1. What are different conditions under which a vote is plausible?
  2. How would different actors respond to a meaningful mobilization to vote?
  3. How might Israeli and Palestinian actions before the election shape the behavior of key actors?
  4. What changes in policy might be made possible by changing the composition of the municipal council?

Since Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem after the 1967 war, the vast majority of Palestinian residents of the city have boycotted participation in municipal elections to avoid legitimating Israeli rule. Nevertheless, recent polls suggest that some Palestinians living in East Jerusalem might be warming to the idea of voting in the city's elections. To examine possible consequences of Jerusalem's Palestinians ending their electoral boycott, a team from the RAND Corporation conducted a seminar-style game in Jerusalem in partnership with the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. The game, held in July 2018, involved Israeli and Palestinian policy experts from Jerusalem representing various stakeholders in the city's politics and governance simulating multiple scenarios that diverge from the status quo. The results of the game suggest that the Israeli and municipal governments would welcome increased Palestinian turnout as long as it was not too high, and that Palestinian city councilors would likely be able to make progress toward improving day-to-day municipal services in Palestinian neighborhoods but would not be able to reverse such policies as home demolitions or residency permit revocations.

Key Findings

The Israeli government would be pleased with East Jerusalem Palestinian electoral participation . . . as long as turnout remained limited

  • The team portraying the Israeli government emphasized that electing a small number of Palestinian council members would be a public relations coup more than anything else.
  • If projected turnout was very high, however, the team portraying the Israeli government acknowledged that it would have considered different policies to depress turnout.

East Jerusalem Palestinians focused on bread-and-butter issues

  • The team portraying East Jerusalem Palestinians in both scenarios opted to run a party focused on economic and social issues rather than political or nationalist ones, despite pressure to adopt a more nationalist platform.

Palestinian city councilors could only affect policy at a low level

  • Councilors could effect changes at the local level — daily municipal service provision issues — but would be largely powerless on big-picture issues having to do with fundamental questions about the future of the city.


  • Conduct more iterations of the game to elicit different information, collect additional perspectives, and consider new trajectories.
  • Run the game using alternative scenarios, including the two developed for this game that were not used.

Research conducted by

This project is a RAND Venture. Funding was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted by the Center for Middle East Public Policy within RAND International Programs.

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