JERUSALEM — Israel on Sunday revoked the Palestinian Foreign Minister’s VIP travel permits as part of a series of punitive measures against Palestinians announced days ago by Israel’s new hardline government.
In a statement, Riad Malki said he was returning from the inauguration of the Brazilian president when he was informed that Israel had revoked his VIP travel permit. This would allow senior Palestinian officials to enter and exit the occupied West Bank more easily than regular Palestinians.
On Friday, the Israeli government approved measures to punish Palestinians in retaliation for asking the UN’s top judicial body to give its opinion on the Israeli occupation. The decisions of the International Court of Justice are not binding, but they can influence public opinion around the world.
The decision underscores that the current administration is already taking a hardline stance against the Palestinians just days after taking office. With violence escalating in the occupied West Bank, peace talks are a distant memory.
In East Jerusalem, a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Israeli police said they had broken up a meeting by Palestinian parents on their children’s education, claiming it was illegally funded by the Palestinian authorities. Police said the operation was carried out on the orders of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gubir, an ultranationalist with a long record of anti-Arab rhetoric and stunts, who now oversees the police.
Palestinians condemned the revocation of Malki’s permit and said Israel should be “punished for violations of international law”.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a ministerial meeting on Sunday that the measures against the Palestinians were aimed at what he called an “extreme anti-Israel” step at the United Nations. The Israeli Defense Ministry has confirmed that Malki’s permit has been revoked. Malki’s office said he was still allowed to travel like a regular Palestinian, but could bypass lines and travel quickly to Jordan through Israeli checkpoints and crossroads in the West Bank. Said he lost his VIP privileges.
On Friday, the government’s security cabinet decided that Israel would withhold $39 million from Palestinian authorities and instead transfer the funds to a compensation program for the families of Israeli victims of Palestinian militant attacks.
It also said Israel would normally deduct more of the income it would send to underfunded PAs. This is equivalent to what the authorities paid last year to families of Palestinian prisoners and people killed in the conflict, including militants involved in attacks against Israel. The Palestinian leadership describes the payments as necessary social welfare, while Israel says the so-called Martyrs’ Fund encourages violence. Israel’s seized funds threaten to exacerbate PA’s financial woes.
The security cabinet also said it would directly target Palestinian officials and deny benefits to “VIPs who are leading a political and legal war against Israel.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s new defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he would strip three senior Palestinian officials of their VIP privileges allowing them to enter Israel. The move comes after visiting an Israeli Arab citizen who was released from prison last week after serving 40 years for the murder of an Israeli soldier.
Saturday’s police operation came days after Ben-Gvir took office. Police said the parents’ meeting was in violation of Israeli law, claiming it was funded by Palestinian authorities and attended by PA activists. Police prevented the meeting from taking place and said they were acting on Ben Guvir’s orders. Police refused to provide evidence to support their claims, and a Ben-Gvir spokesman referred the question to police.
Ziad Shamari, head of the Jerusalem Student Parents Committee, which was holding the meeting, denied PA involvement and said it was held to discuss teacher shortages in East Jerusalem schools. He said he viewed allegations of ties to the PA as a “political pretext to ban” the conference.
The Palestinian Authority was established to administer Gaza and parts of the occupied West Bank. Israel opposes any official work the PA is conducting in East Jerusalem, and police have in the past broken up cases they claimed were PA-related.
Israel occupied and later annexed East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, a move largely disapproved of by the international community. Israel sees this city as an undivided eternal capital. Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as the capital of their desired nation.
About a third of the city’s population is Palestinian and has long faced neglect and discrimination at the hands of Israeli authorities in areas such as education, housing and public services.