Netanyahu, facing corruption charges, takes $138 million from Palestinians

The Israeli election is now in full swing and it has become a battle between the extreme-right coalition led by Benyamin Netanyahu that has been in power for the past ten years and a centre-right coalition led by Benny Gantz who was the Israeli Defence Forces Chief of General Staff during the 2014 assault on Gaza.

Benny Gantz launched his campaign with a video boasting that during the assault that he led “parts of Gaza were sent back to the Stone Age” and 1,364 Hamas militants were killed.

The UN disputes this figure. Not all the 1,364 were Hamas militants and another 1,462 who were killed were definitely civilians, killed as “collateral damage”. 504 children died, 503 Palestinian and one Israeli. Despite all this, Gantz is considered the “peace” candidate.

The mainly Palestinian Joint List has split in two with one part led by Ayman Odeh of Hadash heading for 8-9 seats and another led by Ahmed Tibi of Ra’am-Balad expected to scrape in with 4 seats in the 120-member Knesset.

The left-wing Meretz is hovering just above the 3.25% threshold which they have to reach to win any seats at all and the Israeli Labour Party is doing little better with a forecast 6-9 seats, down from 18 at the last election.

Last week Netanyahu was indicted on three corruption charges and may have to appear in court during the campaign to defend himself, but this has hardly dented support for his Likud party.

In any case his alleged corruption is small fry compared with what he has in store for the Palestinians. Two weeks ago he announced that he is going to withhold $138 million of tax revenues – which illegal belong to the Palestinians – unless they agree to block welfare payments to the families of prisoners in Israeli jails.

On previous occasions when Israel has refused to hand over tax revenues as a way of twisting the arm of the Palestinian government, UK ministers have condemned the practice and urged them to release withheld funds.

This happened when the Palestinians won recognition at the United Nations, when they became signatories to the International Criminal Court, when they became members of UNESCO and when they elected a Hamas government in 2006, but in the end international pressure always forced him to hand the money back.

This time the condition Netanyahu has set for the release of funds is impossible for the Palestinians to meet.  Over a quarter of the adult male population have been in an Israel jail at some point in their lives, the great majority for acts that would not even be an offence in other countries, such as organising or taking part in a demonstration.

He also announced that he will push ahead with the demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar before the election.

“I hope the eviction will take place before the elections, it will surely help”, he told journalists and according to an anonymous statement from two ministers demolition is “scheduled” to take place before the poll “in order to garner political capital on the right.”

Over 60 British MPs have visited the village in the Judean desert between Jerusalem and Jericho and 109 MPs have signed Lisa Nandy’s motion to stop the demolition, but stronger action will now be needed to yield a change of course.

Israeli army JCB bulldozers appeared at the site in July and demolition appeared imminent, but In October, Netanyahu’s office announced that the planned evacuation would be delayed indefinitely amid new talks between the government and village residents.

The decision to delay came after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit warned ministers that a forced evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar could compromise the Israeli position vis-à-vis Palestinian claims against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

The delay drew angry responses from MPs from the governning parties, who have demanded the clearing of the village, which would make way for the expansion of the neighbouring Kfar Adumim settlement.

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