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Israel cancels PA foreign minister’s travel documents after visit to ICC

Riyad Al-Maliki’s delegation questioned upon return from The Hague; PA Foreign Ministry charges move is retaliation for war crimes probe

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki at a press conference on September 22, 2020. (WAFA)
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki at a press conference on September 22, 2020. (WAFA)

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki was stripped of a special travel permit for senior Palestinian officials and his entourage was questioned by Israeli intelligence on Sunday in an unusual incident following Al-Maliki’s visit to the International Criminal Court.

The PA Foreign Ministry was informed by Israeli authorities that Al-Maliki’s VIP travel pass had been canceled as the diplomat entered Allenby crossing from Jordan into the West Bank, senior PA Foreign Ministry official Ahmad al-Deek told The Times of Israel.

The VIP travel pass normally allows Palestinian Authority officials and staff to pass through Israeli checkpoints with minimal friction, but according to al-Deek, al-Maliki’s entourage was questioned by the Shin Bet security service at the scene.

“The minister was held up for around half an hour, and his staff was delayed for around an hour, all told,” al-Deek said.

The Allenby Bridge (also known as the King Hussein Bridge), a major land crossing between Israel and Jordan. (Flash90/File)

The Shin Bet declined to comment. An Israeli official confirmed the incident, but stressed that canceling al-Maliki’s pass was a one-time decision.

“If this is the case, we hope that the Israelis clarify this to us,” al-Deek said, noting that the PA Foreign Ministry had only been informed that the pass had been canceled.

The Israeli official declined to specify why al-Maliki’s pass had been revoked. The PA Foreign Ministry, however, said that Israel had cancelled the VIP permit due to Ramallah’s enthusiastic support for the ongoing ICC investigation.

“Israel is unable to solve cases through the law, but instead resorts to a policy of intimidation, sanctions and threats,” al-Deek said later in statements to the official Palestinian Authority WAFA news agency.

Al-Maliki was returning from a diplomatic visit to Europe that included a trip to The Hague to meet with outgoing ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

Bensouda announced early in March that she would open an investigation into actions committed by Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in the summer of 2014, but excluding the terrorist murder of three Israeli teens that started that escalation.

Her announcement was immediately welcomed by the Palestinian Authority and furiously condemned by Israel.

During al-Maliki’s visit to The Hague, the Palestinian diplomat urged Bensouda to accelerate the pace of the investigation.

“The foreign minister stressed…the importance of expediting investigations into the crimes committed in the territory of the State of Palestine, in a manner that ensures justice for the victims and their families among the Palestinian people,” al-Maliki’s office said in a statement.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda waits for former Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba to enter the court room of the International Criminal Court to stand trial with Aime Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Fidele Babala Wandu and Narcisse Arido, on charges including corruptly influencing witnesses by giving them money and instructions to provide false testimony, and presenting false evidence, in The Hague, Netherlands, September 29, 2015. (AP/Peter Dejong)

The announcement of the investigation came less than a month after the court ruled it had the jurisdiction to open a probe. A preliminary investigation to settle the justiciability question took more than five years.

On Thursday — the same day as al-Maliki’s meeting with Bensouda — the ICC confirmed that it had sent formal notices about its impending investigation into possible war crimes to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The letters gave both parties one month to request the investigation’s deferral, the ICC said.

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