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Latest News in Israel – 23rd May

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing postponed until October

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Wednesday agreed to postpone the pre-indictment hearing for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three criminal cases by almost three months.

The hearing had been scheduled for July 10 — three months after the investigation material was made available to Netanyahu’s lawyers, who took more than a month to collect it — but will now be held on October 2-3, Mandelblit announced. If needed, a third day would be added the following week.

Netanyahu’s attorneys had asked the attorney general for a full-year delay, arguing that the scope of the documents was too large to review in three months.

Mandelblit refused that request, saying it was not in the public interest.

“There is no justification for the hearing to be set — as you requested — for a year after you collected the investigation material, which would harm the vital public interest of making a decision in the cases as soon as possible,” Mandelblit wrote. “Under the current circumstances, there is no justification for this.”

Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu for fraud and breach of trust in the three cases against him, and for bribery in one of them, in February. The prime minister’s attorneys requested, and were granted, that the case files not be handed over prior to the April 9 national election in order to prevent information from leaking to the media and affecting the vote.

But after the election, the lawyers refrained for another month from collecting the material, citing a dispute over their fees. They have been accused of engaging in delay tactics.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is believed to be seeking legislation that could shield him from prosecution, though he has encountered significant opposition to such moves, including from members of his own party.

Netanyahu repeatedly insisted in the run-up to the elections that he would not push for legislation granting him automatic immunity. However, several recent media reports have suggested he later decided to move forward with plans to pass such a law.

Sources close to the prime minister said Sunday that in light of the pushback, he had decided not to move forward with a new law and would work with the existing immunity law as amended in 2005.

The existing legislation requires legitimate reasons under which Netanyahu can seek immunity against prosecution while he remains in office, such as asserting that the public interest would be harmed by a trial, or that the will of the electorate would be subverted. Another clause in the law says immunity can be granted if an indictment “has been issued in bad faith or because of discrimination.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is also reportedly working to promote a bill that would allow the government to overrule the High Court of Justice on administrative matters and that could safeguard the prime minister’s immunity from prosecution by permitting the annulment of any judicial decision to rescind it.

Case 1000 involves accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors; Case 2000 involves accusations that Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth; and Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, involves accusations that Netanyahu advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from its Walla news site.  (the Times of Israel) Staff

UAE, Saudi participation in Trump’s Bahrain peace conference confirmed

Following an announcement Sunday that Bahrain and the United States will host an economic leadership “workshop” to “share ideas, discuss strategies, and galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by [the upcoming U.S.] peace agreement,” the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have announced that they will send delegations to participate.

“The UAE supports all international efforts aimed at supporting economic progress and increasing opportunities in the region, and alleviating the suffering of people in the region, particularly our brothers in Palestine,” the UAE Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The UAE reiterates its support for the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The Saudi Press Agency confirmed the participation of Saudi Economy and Planning Minister Mohammed bin Mazid Al-Tuwaijri on Sunday, saying in a statement that “His Excellency’s participation is in continuation of Saudi Arabia’s firm and supportive positions for the Palestinian people,” with the goal of “achieving [for them] stability, growth, and decent living. And achieving general security, stability, and prosperity in the region.”

The “Peace to Prosperity” summit is scheduled for June 25-26 and will mark the first phase of the roll-out of U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinian Authority Minister Ahmed Majdalani told Reuters that the P.A. would not be sending a representative, but some reports indicate that private Palestinian representatives will attend.

“Any Palestinian who would take part would be nothing but a collaborator for the Americans and Israel,” said Majdalani.  (WIN) JNS Staff

Palestinian Authority: Israeli archaeological digs in West Bank a “crime”

The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called archaeological digs carried out by Israel in the West Bank a “crime” and asked UNESCO as well as the World Travel & Tourism Council to establish an international fact-finding committee to look into the issue.

In a statement released Tuesday, the PA ministry warned archaeologists around the world against taking part in such excavations, arguing such a move “would expose them to legal accountability” and mar their academic record. The PA further asked museums and international institutions to examine all artifacts originating in Israel and refuse to accept any piece “stolen from occupied Palestinian land.”

The PA statement comes after Israel’s Supreme Court last week rejected an appeal submitted by two nongovernmental organizations and ruled that the state was under no obligation to release information about excavations in the West Bank. The names of the archaeologists involved can also remain secret.

In its ruling, the court stated that there was a “clear and genuine concern” over “real” damage that could be inflicted on the professional and economic interests of the diggers, as well as the academic institutions they are affiliated with, due to the threat of an academic boycott.

“The right to information does not stand alone, but exists within a normative environment that includes other rights, values and interests,” the ruling read, adding that access to information that could harm the security of the state or the well-being of an individual need not be disclosed.

Officials involved in the case, who requested anonymity, told The Media Line that “the majority of those involved in these digs in the West Bank did not wish to have their names published.”

Jihad Yasin, director general of the Archaeological Excavations Department at the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, came out against the Israeli ruling and called the excavations in the West Bank “political, not scientific.”

“Archaeologists must do excavations in collaboration with local communities, and they have to publish [their findings] and not keep them a secret,” Yasin told The Media Line. “In a scientific excavation, the archaeologist wants people to know about [their work], but international law is against these kinds of digs in the case of the West Bank because it’s under occupation.”

Yasin asserted that while Israel conducts dozens of digs in the West Bank each year, very little is known about them or what has been unearthed. He revealed that the Palestinian Antiquities Ministry conducts excavations of its own in Area A, which are areas under full Palestinian control as per the Oslo Accords.

Two left-wing Israeli NGOs, Yesh Din and Emek Shaveh, filed the original petition under the Freedom of Information Act, calling on the Israeli government to reveal the locations of West Bank digs and the archaeologists working there. Such excavations take place under the auspices of Israel’s Civil Administration, which is part of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a Defense Ministry body operating in the West Bank.

“The academic research taking place in the West Bank should be openly known and announced, [as it would be] inside Israel,” Yonathan Mizrachi, executive director of Emek Shaveh, told The Media Line. “When you’re talking about archaeological excavations in the West Bank and the location of the finds, it’s quite clear that there is a demand that they all remain in the West Bank and for the benefit of the local population.”

Mizrachi emphasized that this would be in keeping with international law, as defined by the Hague Convention on the Laws and Customs of War on Land. The Convention has two supplementary protocols from 1954 and 1999, which forbid an occupying power from removing artifacts of cultural heritage from an occupied territory. Israel is a signatory of the first protocol, but not the second, and also contests the claim that it is occupying the West Bank.

A spokesperson for the Civil Administration meanwhile told The Media Line that “any citizen wishing to know more about archaeological excavations can request information from the [Israeli] Ombudsman’s Office, and we will respond accordingly.”  (Jerusalem Post) Maya Margit

Israel allows PA security services to bring armored vehicles into West Bank

The Palestinian Authority has received armored vehicles from the United States after a long period during which it was not permitted to receive such vehicles, according to Ynet. Israel had denied requests to bring in the vehicles for years, due to the issue of tax money being used to pay the families of terrorists.

The Palestinian security services received ten armored vehicles from the US. Palestinian reports stated that the vehicles were transferred to the West Bank two days ago through Jordan, according to Walla.

The transfer of the armored vehicles “was approved after a request by the Americans by former Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman and the prime minister over nine months ago,” security officials said on Tuesday, Walla reported. The vehicles were supplied by the US four months ago.

The shipment arrives amid the clash between the PA and Israel surrounding the pay-for-slay policy and the PA’s refusal to accept tax money from Israel after Israel began subtracting the payments the PA pays families of terrorists from the revenue.

For three months, tens of thousands of Palestinian security officers have been receiving only half their salaries because of the row, which has caused unrest in the security services.

Ynet claimed that Israel’s decision to approve the transfer of armored vehicles may be intended to ease the criticism and frustration of the PA and to maintain security coordination.  (Jerusalem Post)

PA’s Artificial Economic Crisis Seeks Israeli Recognition that Palestinian Terror Is Legitimate – Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser (Israel Institute for Strategic Studies)

With Abbas’ refusal to accept tax revenues collected by Israel for the Palestinian Authority, now that the Anti-“Pay to Slay” Law passed by the Knesset in July 2018 has been implemented, it seems that his goal is to obtain Israeli and international legitimacy for salary payments to terrorists – a de facto recognition of the PA’s position that this terror is legitimate.

The PA’s thesis on the legitimacy of terror was expressed in an official paper published by the PLO Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society. The PA fears that agreeing to a compromise now will open the door to a wave of additional pressures, including demands that they stop incitement and recognize Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish People.

The truth is that they reject the very existence of a Jewish People and do not recognize that the Jewish nation has a history of sovereignty in the Land of Israel. This is the basis for their claim that there is no justification for creating the Jewish nation-state on that land and for their belief that all forms of struggle against Zionism are legitimate.

The PA leadership’s insistence on continuing wage payments to terrorists and their families, even at the price of an artificial economic crisis, shows once again that in Palestinian eyes the Oslo Accords did not reflect a substantive change in Palestinian national aspirations or in the methods employed to achieve them.

True, there is cooperation on security issues with the PA, but that serves the interests of both sides. The PA cooperates mainly in the battle against Hamas and hardly lifts a finger against the phenomenon of lone terrorists, which it actually encourages by means of continuous incitement (including paying salaries to terrorists and glorifying them).

Israel should not do anything to hasten the PA’s breakdown, because it has no desire to rule over the Palestinians and run their day-to-day lives, but it also should not feel more obligated to the PA’s continued existence than do the Palestinians themselves, thereby leaving itself open to continuous extortion on strategic issues.

Israel has no real reason to be anxious about the Palestinians purposely causing their government’s collapse, because its existence is the most important accomplishment of the Palestinians so far

The writer, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Research Division, is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.