PM Khan accuses Israeli, Indian leadership of ‘moral bankruptcy’, illegal occupation of land for votes

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday assailed what he described as the “moral bankruptcy” of Indian and Israeli political leadership, accusing the incumbent parties of harbouring ambitions to illegally occupy land in the West Bank and Kashmir in defiance of international laws and “their own constitutions” for votes as both countries head to polls this week.

“When leaders in Israel and India show a moral bankruptcy in their readiness to annex occupied West Bank and IoK [Indian occupied Kashmir] in defiance of international law, United Nations Security Council resolutions, and their own Constitution for votes, don’t their people feel a sense of outrage and wonder how far they [the leaders] will go simply to win an election?” he asked.

Israeli voters will head to the ballot boxes today for crucial parliamentary elections that will determine whether longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains in power for a fifth term, which would make him Israel’s longest-ever serving leader, surpassing David Ben-Gurion.

Read: As Israelis head to polls, it’s all about one man: Benjamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu’s poll prospects, clouded by a series of looming corruption indictments, appear sunnier after US President Donald Trump’s recent recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967 and annexed in a shift that was never recognised internationally. The move sparked outrage across the Middle East.

Netanyahu has promoted Jewish settlement expansion in his four terms as prime minister, but until now refrained from presenting a detailed vision for the West Bank, viewed by Palestinians as the heartland of a future state.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu, when asked in an interview why he had not declared Israeli sovereignty over large West Bank settlements just as Israel has done in occupied Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, said: “I am going to extend [Israeli] sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlement.”

The Turkish foreign minister described the statement as an “irresponsible” bid to “seek votes just before the Israeli general elections”.

The Palestinians and many countries deem settlements to be illegal under the Geneva conventions that bar settling on land captured in war. Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.

“For those on the fence, it will enhance his [Netanyahu’s] standing for sure,” Eytan Gilboa, professor of politics at Bar-Ilan University earlier told The Associated Press. “The Golan Heights recognition, warm White House reception, personal dinner with Trump. It will both divert attention away from his pressing domestic concerns and make him appear as a great world leader.”

In today’s election, Netanyahu faces a stiff challenge from retired military chief Benny Gantz, whose Blue and White party has inched ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud in polls.

Netanyahu still appears to have the best chance of forming a coalition, though, with a smattering of small nationalist parties backing him.

Take a look: Palestine, Turkey denounce Netanyahu’s campaign pledge to change West Bank status

India is also heading to the polls on Thursday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seeks a second term in the almost six-week mega-election. About 900 million people are eligible to vote in a staggered process that allows the government to deploy tens of thousands of troops to prevent outbreaks of violence and the capture of voting stations by party activists.

The BJP is widely expected to retain power after the election, though with a much smaller mandate, hit by concerns over a shortage of jobs and weak farm prices.

Read: BJP releases election manifesto, vows to strip Kashmiris of special rights

On Monday, the party released its manifesto, which vowed to strip decades-old special rights from the people of occupied Kashmir, making an election promise that could provoke a backlash in the Muslim-majority area.

The BJP has consistently advocated an end to occupied Kashmir’s special constitutional status, which prevents outsiders, including Indian citizens, from buying property there, arguing that such laws have hindered its ‘integration’ with the rest of India.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti warned Delhi yesterday that Article 370 “binds Jammu and Kashmir with India and acts as a bridge. When this bridge is demolished, then India’s control over Kashmir becomes illegal and it becomes an occupational force.”