Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza and the ongoing expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Despite the threat, the Israeli defense minister announced on Tuesday Israel would approve the construction of hundreds of new settlement homes in the West Bank. This comes as Sweden criticized the Trump administration for threatening to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of annual aid to the UN's relief agency for Palestinian refugees. Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi compared President Trump's threat to cut off aid money to blackmail. For more, we speak with author and scholar Norman Finkelstein. His new book is titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. Norman Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. He is the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.
AMY GOODMAN: Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza and the ongoing expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. According to the Israeli TV station Channel 10, Israel's National Security Council recently warned Israeli lawmakers that the ICC could open an investigation at some point this year. Despite the warning, the Israeli defense minister announced Tuesday Israel will approve the construction of hundreds of new settlement homes in the West Bank. Palestinian leaders began calling for an ICCprobe soon after the 2014 assault on Gaza, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, including over 500 children.
This comes as Israel and the United States are facing growing international condemnation over their treatment of Palestinians. Last month, the United Nations voted 128 to 9 in favor of a resolution calling for the United States to drop its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Sweden criticized the Trump administration for threatening to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of annual aid to the UN's relief agency for Palestinian refugees. Sweden's ambassador to the United Nations said the cutting off of the aid, quote, "would be destabilizing for the region." Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi compared President Trump's threat to cut off aid money to blackmail.
HANAN ASHRAWI: I would say that Palestinian rights are not for sale, and we will not succumb to blackmail. There are imperatives and requirements for peace. And unilaterally, President Trump has destroyed them. He has even sabotaged our efforts at achieving a just peace and getting freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people. By recognizing occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he has not only disqualified himself as a peace broker or a mediator by taking sides and by becoming complicit in Israel's occupation, he has also totally sabotaged, he has totally destroyed, the very foundations of peace.
AMY GOODMAN: Part of the UN aid money goes to refugees living in occupied Gaza, the most densely populated area in the world. For years, the United Nations and aid groups have warned conditions in Gaza are almost unlivable due to the decade-long Israeli military blockade and multiple Israeli assaults on the region. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, seven out of 10 people in Gaza live off humanitarian aid. The unemployment rate, 44 percent. Electricity cuts can reach up to 20 hours every day.
Gaza is the subject of a new book by the author and scholar Norman Finkelstein. It's titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. Norman Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. He's the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.
Norman Finkelstein, welcome back to Democracy Now! Let's begin with the latest news of this report of a possible ICC, International Criminal Court, war crimes probe into the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, there's been long-standing ICC investigations of Israeli conduct, and this is another phase, the report in the Israeli press that it's moving along. The chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, she has been very soft, as has the previous ICC chief prosecutor, when it comes to prosecuting anyone except Africans. Since the founding of the ICC in 1998, the only persons who have ever been tried are African leaders or Africans accused of significant human rights crimes. It's called -- by many African states, it's called the International Caucasian Court, not Criminal Court.
What will come of this, it's unclear. It's possible that the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, will use the Palestine case to demonstrate that not only Africans are prosecuted, as a way of demonstrating that she's going to break the precedent. I, myself, have contacted her, because, as I said, it's been an ongoing process, and what happened in 2014, which I discuss at length in my book, is part of the investigation. And people who know her and have been enthusiastic about my manuscript have also contacted her.
I would also just want to make one point. Of course an investigation would be a good thing. Of course an investigation is warranted. However, we have to bear in mind that the Palestinians have won many important political and legal victories. In 2004, the International Court of Justice found in favor of the Palestinians across the board. Then there was the Goldstone Report, which was another important victory. The problem is not that the Palestinians lack in political and legal victories. The problem is that the Palestinian leadership, or so-called leadership, has never translated the legal and political victories into something practical on the ground. And so, even if -- and I'm hoping it will happen -- but even if there's an ICC victory for the Palestinians, even on that remote possibility, the problem is: What do you do with it? And the Palestinian leadership has never done anything with its victories.
AMY GOODMAN: So, before we get into your inquest into Gaza, I want to also ask about this threat of the US cutting off millions of dollars to UNRWA, to the Palestinian refugee agency. Explain the significance of this agency and why Palestinians rely on this so much.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: OK. First of all, you have to bear in mind that 70 percent of Palestinians in Gaza -- let's just call them Gazans -- 70 percent of Gazans are classified as refugees. That means, technically, actual refugees and children of refugees. But under the categorization used in Gaza, they're all classified as refugees. So that's 70 percent. Secondly, half of Gaza's population, or slightly more, are children. And so you have this overwhelmingly refugee child population, and they rely overwhelmingly on UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
UNRWA is financed between 25 and 30 percent by the United States, and that comes to about $300 million a year. And so, the threat of cutting the money to UNRWA would be -- it would be devastating for an already devastated population, overwhelmingly children. Nonetheless, I would like to keep things in proportion. So, it would be a catastrophe, no doubt about it, if UNRWA is defunded by the United States. However, let's look at the numbers. We're talking about $300 million annually. Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, he paid $500 million for a yacht. That would have covered all of UNRWA's expenses, American -- the American portion, for more than a year. He paid $450 million for a da Vinci painting. That would have covered all US expenses, again, for more than a year. He paid $300 million for a house in Versailles. That would have covered all the UN expense -- UNRWA expenses by the United States. And God only knows how much money he paid for Tom Friedman's column in The New York Times.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don't you explain what you're referring to, the op-ed piece in The New York Times about Mohammad bin Salman --
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. There are --
AMY GOODMAN: -- the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: There are young people here, so I have to be careful about my language. But all it was was a very expensive -- it was a --
AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, be careful. No cursing on here.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: No, it's not cursing. But it was a protracted -- it was a verbal blowjob, probably the most expensive one in world history, that was administered to Mohammad bin Salman, the column he wrote in the Times. It was vintage Tom Friedman. He goes into Saudi Arabia for three days, says everything is wonderful, talks to the crown prince's sister, who's representative of the people of Saudi Arabia, says they're all very enthusiastic about him, and then he walks away and writes this column.
AMY GOODMAN: Hardly mentioning in this column, among other issues, Yemen. Mohammad bin Salman, who is in charge of the US-backed Saudi assault on Yemen.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yes. Well, Yemen is -- look, the fact of the matter is that every reactionary, every regressive movement in the Arab world is financed by the Saudis, whether it's Yemen, whether it's Bahrain, whether it's Syria, whether it's Egypt. Everywhere, it's the Saudi money. And it's also, incidentally, the Saudi money that keeps the Palestinian Authority afloat. That's why they have to pay all -- they have to pay deference to the Saudis. It's a wretched, parasitic regime.
AMY GOODMAN: What about Jared Kushner's relationship with Mohammad bin Salman? And how does that play in here? He's gone repeatedly to Saudi Arabia. Jared Kushner, senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Trump, apparently is in charge of the Middle East peace process. And they have, apparently, cooked up a plan -- Jared Kushner and Mohammad bin Salman -- for peace in the Middle East.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, first of all, we have to look at the context: Jared Kushner knows nothing about anything. Jared Kushner is only there because he's married to Trump's daughter. He's the son of Charles Kushner. Charles Kushner is a real estate mogul, a billionaire who has the distinguishing characteristic of actually having been arrested and spending time in jail. Now, that's very rare --
AMY GOODMAN: By Chris Christie, when he was a prosecutor in New Jersey.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Right. That's very rare in the United States for a billionaire to spend time in jail. Among other things, he hired a prostitute and had her photographed in order to -- hired a prostitute to have his brother-in-law photographed, and then presented the video to his wife at some family gathering. Jared Kushner, he got into Harvard University because the year he applied, his father gave $2.3 million to Harvard. Everybody agreed he didn't have the grades, he didn't have the test scores. These are people who profit -- who profit from their parents' profit. There's no known knowledge that he possesses about the Middle East.
And incidentally, it's the same thing with Mohammad bin Salman. His only interest is -- has only one interest. And, of course, the interest is to maintain his power. But the Saudi regime is a parasitic regime. Work -- literally, in Saudi Arabia, "work" is the four-letter word. If you say that you have a job, that you work, the Saudi ruling class looks at you with contempt. "You work?" And so, the Saudis know -- in their now battle with Iran, they know that they couldn't prevail against Iran on a military level, on a strategic level. You know, Iran is a 5,000-year-old civilization. It's a very impressive place. And so they're hoping that the United States and Israel will take their chestnuts out of the fire. So they want Israel and the United States to go to war with Iran. And so they're willing to do anything. You know, they'll give away Palestine. They'll give away this studio. They'll purchase it and give it away to get the United States and Israel to do their bidding. So, we're not really talking about a peace plan. We're talking about handing Israel everything it wants, in exchange for Israel and the United States taking out Iran.