Palestinian Authority foreign minister says Israel revoked his travel permit

The Palestinian Authority foreign minister said Sunday that Israel revoked his travel permit, part of a series of punitive steps against the Palestinians that Israel’s new hardline government announced days ago in the wake of a PA initiative at the UN against Israel’s holding of the West Bank.

Riyad al-Malki said in a statement that he was returning from the Brazilian president’s inauguration when he was informed that Israel rescinded a travel permit for top Palestinian officials that allowed them to travel easily in and out of the West Bank, unlike ordinary Palestinians.

The Israeli government on Friday approved the steps to penalize the Palestinians in retaliation for them pushing the UN’s highest judicial body to give its opinion on Israel’s control of the West Bank. The decision highlights the tough line the new government is taking towards the Palestinians, at a time of spiking violence in the West Bank and with peace talks a distant memory.

Malki was forced to wait for an hour in line alongside regular Palestinian Authority citizens as he returned to the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge border crossing from Jordan, the Ynet news site reported.

Puzzled Palestinians reportedly asked Malki why he was waiting with them instead of passing through as a VIP.

Malki told Voice of Palestine radio that the steps Israel is taking are against international law and called on the international community to “take a clear position” to impress on Israel that it does not have a free hand on the matter.

The PA foreign ministry said in a statement that Israel had canceled Malki’s VIP status without taking into consideration the ministry’s “status and legal capacity.”

Malki’s political adviser Ahmad Aldik called it a “blatant violation” of agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. He said Israel has an “obligation” to allow Palestinian movement and that it is not just a “privilege.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on January 3, 2023. (Atef Safadi/Pool Photo via AP)

In East Jerusalem, a flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Israeli police said they broke up a meeting of Palestinian parents about their children’s education, claiming it was illegally funded by the Palestinian Authority. Police said the operation came at the behest of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, an ultranationalist with a long record of anti-Arab rhetoric and stunts who now oversees the police.

The Palestinians condemned the revoking of Malki’s permit, saying Israel should be the one being “punished for its violations against international law.” Israeli officials could not immediately be reached for confirmation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of his cabinet on Sunday that the measures were aimed at what he called “an extreme anti-Israel” step at the UN.

On Friday, the government’s security cabinet decided Israel would withhold $39 million from the Palestinian Authority and transfer the funds instead to a compensation program for the families of Israeli victims of Palestinian terror attacks.

It also said Israel would further deduct revenue it typically transfers to the cash-strapped PA — a sum equal to the amount the authority paid last year to families of Palestinian prisoners and those killed in the conflict, including terrorists convicted in deadly attacks on Israelis. The Palestinian leadership describes the payments as necessary social welfare, while Israel says the so-called Martyrs’ Fund incentivizes violence. The withheld funds threaten to exacerbate the PA’s fiscal woes.

The security cabinet also targeted Palestinian officials directly, saying it would deny benefits to “VIPs who are leading the political and legal war against Israel.”

In another move, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he was revoking the entry permits to Israel of three members of the PA’s ruling Fatah party — Mahmoud al-Aloul, Azzam al-Ahmad, and Rawhi Fattouh — after the trio paid a visit to a newly released prisoner who served decades in jail for murdering a soldier.

Officers disperse a parents’ committee meeting in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya amid ‘terror summit’ claims, January 7, 2023 (Israel Police)

The East Jerusalem police operation Saturday came days after Ben Gvir took office. Police alleged the parents’ meeting was funded by the Palestinian Authority and attended by PA activists, which it said was in violation of Israeli law. Police said they prevented the meeting from taking place and that they were operating under an order by Ben Gvir to shut it down. Police declined to provide evidence backing up their claim and a spokesperson for Ben-Gvir referred questions to the police.

Ziad Shamali, head of the Students’ Parents’ Committees Union in Jerusalem, which was holding the meeting, denied there was any PA involvement, saying it was being held to discuss a shortage of teachers in East Jerusalem schools. He said he viewed the claim of PA ties as “a political pretext to ban” the meeting.

The Palestinian Authority was created to administer Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Israel opposes any official business being carried out by the PA in East Jerusalem, and police have in the past broken up events they alleged were linked to the PA.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it, a move unrecognized by most of the international community. Israel considers Jerusalem its undivided, eternal capital. The Palestinians seek the city’s eastern sector as the capital of their hoped-for state.

About a third of Jerusalem’s population is Palestinian and they have long faced neglect and discrimination at the hands of Israeli authorities, including in education, housing, and public services.

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