We turn now to one of the longest running and most bitter conflicts in modern history: Israel and the Palestinians. Well over a decade has passed since the historic Oslo Accords that brought hopes for a lasting peace. Today, relations between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority are virtually nonexistent. Israel and the P.A. have not held final status peace talks in over five years. With the recent election of Hamas, Israel says it will cut off all ties to any Palestinian government that includes the group. After the election Israel withheld tax funds it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. It finally transferred the funds but says any Hamas-led Palestinian government will get, quote, "not even one shekel." That's, well, a dime in the United States.
The Palestinian Authority is on the brink of financial disaster. This week, the P.A. announced it will be unable to issue paychecks to its more than 130,000 employees. It's the largest employer in the Occupied Territories. Hamas's victory is seen as, in part, as a reaction to what many Palestinians see as the corruption of the old guard. An internal Palestinian inquiry has found at least $700 million has been stolen from Palestinian public funds due to corruption in the last few years. The total figure could be billions more.
Meanwhile, the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank continue to expand. The Israeli group Peace Now reported 12,000 new residents moved into West Bank settlements in 2005, 3,000 more than the total number removed as part of Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip, and construction continues in settlements located both inside and outside the route of Israel's separation barrier.
Today, we bring you a discussion with two of the world's leading experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both of them have new books on the subject. We're joined by Shlomo Ben-Ami, both an insider and a scholar. As Foreign Minister under Ehud Barak, he was a key participant in years of Israel-Palestinian peace talks, including the Camp David and Taba talks in 2000 and 2001. An Oxford-trained historian, he is currently Vice President of the Toledo Peace Centre in Madrid. His new book is called Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy. President Bill Clinton says, quote, “Shlomo Ben-Ami worked tirelessly and courageously for peace. His account of what he did and failed to do and where we go from here should be read by everyone who wants a just and lasting resolution.
We're also joined by Norman Finkelstein. He's a professor of political science at DePaul University. His books include A Nation on Trial, which he coauthored with Ruth Bettina Birn, named as a New York Times notable book for 1998. He's also the author of Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict and The Holocaust Industry. His latest book is Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. His website is NormanFinkelstein.com. Avi Shlaim of Oxford University calls Beyond Chutzpah “Brilliantly illuminating… On display are all the sterling qualities for which Finkelstein has become famous: erudition, originality, spark, meticulous attention to detail, intellectual integrity, courage, and formidable forensic skills.”
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! It's very good to have you with us. Well, I want to start going back to the establishment of the state of Israel, and I'd like to begin with Israel's former Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami. Can you talk about how it began? I think you have a very interesting discussion in this book that is rarely seen in this country of how the state of Israel was established. Can you describe the circumstances?