Palestinians reject Warsaw Conference

The secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement rejecting the US-led conference that opens today in Warsaw, ostensibly aimed at brokering Middle East peace. Said Erekat: "Today we face a reality whereby the US Trump administration, in cooperation with the Polish government, is pushing yet a new initiative to annihilate the Palestinian national project." (Ma'an) The meeting was first announced last month by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after his anti-Iran speech in Cairo, and is widely perceived as an effort to rally world powers behind Washington's drive against Tehran. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is to be among the speakers. Poland has been making some efforts to resist turning the conference into a propagandistic anti-Iran meeting, underscoring its commitment to the nuclear deal that the US has now disavowed. But as Warsaw's former ambassador to Afghanistan Piotr Lukasiewicz told Al Jazeera: "[Poland] has lost control over the general message of the conference to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia." The notable absentees from the summit are meanwhile convening their own meeting in the Russian ski resort of Sochi. The rival summit is bringing together Vladimir Putin, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran's Hassan Rouhani, officiallty to discuss the situation in Syria and the pending withdrawal of US troops there. (EuroNews)

The Warsaw Conference comes as the US is stepping up its diplomatic isolation of Palestine. The US confirmed Feb 1 that it has halted all aid to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, a step linked to the new Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA). This includes more than $60 million in annual funds for the Palestinian security services. Ironically, even Israeli officials have expressed concern that this could hurt cooperation with the Palestinian Authority on counter-terrorism. Last year, Washington cut hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinians, including funds for humanitarian projects such as health, education and infrastructure. The Trump administration also ended all US funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. Washington had previously been the largest donor to UNRWA, giving more than $360 million in 2017. (BBC News, Jerusalem Post)

On Jan 2 the US and Israel both announced their withdrawal from the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). US ambassador Nikki Haley commented with a press release protesting UNESCO's decision to designate the Old City of Hebron and Tomb of the Patriarchs to the state of Palestine in 2017. (Jurist) This protest, of course, legimtizes Israel's exploitation of Abrahamic "heritage sites" on the West Bank in the service of its annexationist designs.

Just after the Warsaw Conference closes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be hosting a meeting in Jerusalem of the Visegrad Group—Hungary,  Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Jerusalem summit marks the first time the V4 meeting will take place outside of Europe. Critics are aghast, noting the overtly anti-Semitic politics of Hungary’s four-time prime minister Viktor Orban and Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki. (The Independent) But this convergence hsd a grim political logic, given Israel's increasingly fascistic direction under Netanyahu.

Israel AG to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu

Israel Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Feb. 28 announced his intention to file criminal charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for one count of bribery and three counts of breach of trust.

The press release emphasized that before a final decision to file charges was reached, Netanyahu's lawyer would be given a hearing before the Attorney General as required under Israeli law.

Mandelbilt was appointed by Netanyahu in 2016. The charges are the result of a criminal investigation by the Attorney General that began in December 2016 followed in June 2017 by a public investigation by the Israel Securities Authority.

In the first case, Case 1000, Mandelbilt alleges Netanyahu received 1 million shekels (approximately USD $275,000) in gifts from an overseas billionaire in exchange for advancing a tax break which would have benefited the businessman.

The second case, Case 2000, alleges Netanyahu negotiated with Arnon Moses, the owner of Yedioth Ahronoth, to limit the circulation of a rival newspaper in exchange for favorable coverage. The Attorney General also intends to indict Moses for bribery in connection with the case.

In the last and largest case, Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of promoting regulatory changes valued at 1 billion shekels (about $275 million) on behalf of Bezeq, an Israeli telecom company, in exchange for positive press in Walla, a site owned by Saul Elovitch, Bezeq’s primary shareholder. At the time of the alleged deal, Netanyahu was also serving as Minister of Communications. The Attorney General also plans to indict Elovitch for bribery.

Charges will not be filed until Netanyahu’s lawyers appear before the Attorney General, which is not expected until after next month’s elections. The announcement comes at a particularly inconvenient time for Netanyahu, whose Likud party had hoped to retain its position as the largest party in the Israeli Parliament during the elections. (Jurist)

Netanyahu faces this scandal just as he is seeking coalition partners so ugly that Haaretz accuses him of endorsing "Jewish fascism." Likud has announced it would reserve the 28th spot on its parliamentary list for the pro-settler Habayit Hayehudi Jewish Home party and grant it two Cabinet ministries in a future government if it merges with the extremist Jewish Power party. Otzma Yehudit. (AP)

Far-rightists cleared for Israel election, Arab party blocked

Israel's Central Elections Committee has approved far-right Jewish candidates for next month's election while disqualifying an Arab party that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said supported terrorism. The committee, made up of members of the outgoing parliament, struck down motions that had sought to bar as racist Jewish Power's Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir, who are adherents of late anti-Arab rabbi Meir Kahane. The committee also voted 17-10 to bar the joint Arab party Raam-Balad from the election in accordance with a motion filed by Netanyahu's ruling Likud party. The decisions may be appealed to the Supreme Court. (Reuters)

Israel's political establishment embraces cannabis

Two Israeli ex-prime ministers are now involved in the cannabis industry, and legalization became a key issue in the recent elections. But in a case of strange bedfellows, legalization was aggressively taken up as a campaign plank by the far right. See full story at Global Ganja Report...