Israel imposes travel restrictions on four Palestinian Authority officials amid UN row

Relations hit a new low only weeks after new government takes office

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet has imposed a moratorium on Palestinian construction projects in most of the occupied West Bank. EPA
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Relations between the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority reached a low point on Sunday after Israel imposed travel restrictions on four senior officials from Ramallah, including Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki.

Mr Al Maliki's travel permit was taken by Israeli soldiers as he entered the occupied West Bank from Jordan.

The Israeli army said this was in accordance with a government decision. But on Sunday Mr Netanyahu said the restriction on Mr Al Maliki's movement was in response to the Palestinian Authority's decision to call for a UN resolution on the illegality of Israel's occupation of the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu called the proposed resolution an “extremist anti-Israeli resolution”.

The UN General Assembly, responding to an appeal by the Palestinians, on December 30 asked the ICJ for an opinion on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.

Mr Al Maliki's travel document was confiscated by Israel in 2021 after a similar appeal to the ICJ.

“The foreign minister will continue his job and his diplomatic activities with or without the card,” Ahmed Al Deek, an aide to Mr Al Maliki, told Reuters.

Israel also revoked entry permits for three senior officials from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's party after they visited a Palestinian recently released after spending 40 years in an Israeli prison.

Mahmud Al Alul, Azzam Al Ahmad and Rawhi Fattouh visited Karim Younis in his home village of Ara in northern Israel following his release on Thursday after serving his sentence for killing an Israeli soldier.

“The three men took advantage of their status and entered Israel this morning [Saturday] to travel to the home of the terrorist Karim Younis,” the office of Defence Minister Yoav Galant said.

Mr Galant ordered that their Israeli entry permits be revoked in response, it added.

The move follows a decision on Friday by Mr Netanyahu's security cabinet to withhold from the Palestinian Authority millions of dollars in revenue that Israel collects on its behalf, and to impose a moratorium on Palestinian construction projects in most of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu's office said the decision was in response to the UN General Assembly's ICJ referral.

According to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa, the Israeli security cabinet ordered the allocation of approximately 139 million shekels (nearly $39 million) of PA funds to “Israeli victims of terrorism”.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry accused Israel of taking “vindictive measures” against Palestinians over the UN move.

“States must ensure that Israel ceases its sanctions against the Palestinian people and submit to the rules-based international order or be prepared to receive the treatment owed to pariah states,” the ministry said in a statement carried by Wafa.

People demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government in Tel Aviv on Saturday. Reuters

Mr Netanyahu took office late last month at the head of a coalition with far-right and Jewish ultra-Orthodox parties that is regarded as the most right-wing in Israeli history.

On Saturday evening, thousands of Israelis took to the streets in the city of Tel Aviv to protest against the government's plans to overhaul the judicial system.

The protest was led by left-wing and Arab members of the Israeli parliament who say that proposed plans by the new cabinet will hinder the judicial system and widen social divisions.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin on Wednesday unveiled the government’s long-promised reform of the judicial system that aims to weaken the country’s Supreme Court.

Critics accused the government of declaring war on the legal system, saying the plan would upend Israel’s system of checks and balances, and undermine its democratic institutions by giving absolute power to the new governing coalition.

“We are really afraid that our country is going to lose [our] democracy and we are going to a dictatorship just for reasons of one person [who] wants to get rid of his law trial,” said Danny Simon, 77, a protester from Yavne, south of Tel Aviv. He was referring to Mr Netanyahu, who was indicted on corruption charges in 2021, allegations that he has denied.

Protesters also called for peace and coexistence between Jewish and Arab residents of the country.

“We are here to say loud and clear that all of us, Arabs and Jews and different various communities inside of Israel, demand peace, equality and justice,” said Rula Daood of Standing Together, a grassroots movement of Arabs and Jews.

Updated: January 08, 2023, 5:13 PM