Daniel Estrin

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, faces his toughest political battle for survival in years, as the country holds unprecedented repeat elections Tuesday.

This is the second time Israelis are going to the polls in less than six months. Netanyahu, 69, forced the do-over in a last-minute move, just weeks after April elections, because he secured a narrow win but failed to build a parliament majority.

The Trump administration has shown unwavering support for the Israeli government, except for one major criticism: China's growing influence in the Israeli economy.

Chinese companies have invested in strategic Israeli infrastructure, from shipping to electricity to public transportation, and they have bought up millions of dollars in stakes in cutting-edge technology startups.

Where Israel sees an opportunity to access the world's second-largest economy, the United States sees security threats posed by its main adversary.

It takes a few seconds: Palestinians place electronic ID cards on a sensor, stare at the aperture of a small black camera, then walk past panels fanning open to let them through.

Israel is upgrading its West Bank checkpoints with facial recognition technology to verify Palestinians' identities as they cross into Israel. The new system, which began rolling out late last year, eases their passage with shorter wait times — but is drawing criticism about the role the controversial technology plays in Israel's military control over Palestinians.

It's not easy to find a tour guide in Gaza. Even clerks at the local Tourism Ministry, a vestige of the 1990s that remarkably still exists, struggle to recommend professional guides, before suggesting a man who hasn't led tourists around for 20 years.

Ayman Hassouna seems delighted to spend a sweltering day in a suit jacket, showing off the historical sites, colorful markets and delicious grilled fish of his native Gaza — among other unexpected gems made even more precious by the reality that most people in the world are unable to experience them.

The fake license plates, forged passports and concealed surveillance camera were locked away in the musty archives of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency for 50 years. Now they are touring the U.S. in a traveling exhibition about the Mossad's legendary capture of Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann.

But one object crucial to the mission's success is not on display: the needle used to inject a sedative into Eichmann's arm before he was smuggled onto a plane back to Israel to stand trial.

For over a decade, the Gaza Strip — controlled by the Islamist militant group Hamas, blockaded by its neighbors, difficult to leave — has amounted to an experiment in human isolation.

Now there is a new escape route. Egypt suddenly opened its border with Gaza in May 2018, and, facing increasingly unbearable living conditions, tens of thousands of Gazans are believed to have crossed that border and scattered across the world, in the latest chapter in a mass exodus of migrants out of the troubled Middle East.

The White House on Saturday published one-half of its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan — a multibillion-dollar proposal to upgrade the Palestinian economy. The Palestinian leadership has already rejected it, and so far, it has been widely panned by former U.S. envoys and Mideast policy experts.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Under orders from the Trump administration, the U.S. Agency for International Development is preparing to lay off most of its Palestinian aid workers in its West Bank and Gaza mission, according to U.S. government communications reviewed by NPR.

It's the latest step toward shrinking a decades-long U.S. aid mission to build the capacity for a future Palestinian state. In response to NPR's request for comment, a USAID official emailed a statement saying that the agency has "begun to take steps to reduce our staffing footprint." He did not want his name used.

When it came down to a final issue for Israeli voters to ponder before Tuesday's elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an extraordinary campaign pledge: If re-elected, he said on Saturday, he would annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Such a move would represent a dramatic, far-right policy change for Israel, staking a permanent claim over lands Palestinians demand for their own state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is waging a mudslinging re-election campaign on social media, channeling his close ally President Trump in style and substance.

Tens of thousands of Palestinian protesters gathered at the Gaza border Saturday to mark the first anniversary of demonstrations calling on Israel to ease its blockade on the territory.

Gaza health officials report one 20-year-old and three 17-year-old protesters were killed by Israeli troops, and dozens of protesters were rushed to the hospitals with bullet wounds. The Israeli army said it was responding to protesters hurling stones and grenades at the border fence.

Despite the gunfire and grenades, the demonstrations were considered calmer than usual.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is drawing criticism for saying that Israel is "the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people." The comment prompted many people — including Israel's president and the star of Wonder Woman — to defend Israel's Palestinian Arab minority.

Palestinian Arab citizens are about a fifth of Israel's population and often face discrimination and accusations of disloyalty.

For decades after the Holocaust, many Jews refused to visit Germany. Some still do.

But now it has become common to hear Hebrew spoken in the bakeries and bars of Berlin.

At least 10,000 Israelis are estimated to have moved to the German capital in the past decade, according to Tal Alon, the Berlin-based editor of the Hebrew-language magazine Spitz. (The Israeli Embassy in Germany said it had no official statistic.)

When the United States closes its Jerusalem Consulate on Monday, it will not only be winding down a 175-year diplomatic mission. The move also represents another major downgrade of the Trump administration's relations with the Palestinians.

After months of anticipation, Israel's attorney general has told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he is preparing to indict him on corruption charges.

It's a major blow to the long-serving premier and Trump ally, though not a final decision on an indictment. Netanyahu will still have a chance to hold off any indictment during a court hearing. And in the meantime, he remains in office and seeks reelection in April.

The U.S.-led liberal world order is falling apart, according to the organizers of a gathering of world leaders and defense chiefs in Germany that has met annually since the Cold War.

The Munich Security Conference report said the Trump administration displays an "irritating enthusiasm for strongmen across the globe" and "disdain for international institutions and agreements."

The United States has cut funding for Palestinian security forces considered critical for the safety of Palestinians and Israelis, as a new U.S. anti-terrorism law took effect on Friday. But the U.S. says it will continue to help with security cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis.

The White House has blocked an emergency effort to finish major U.S.-funded school, water and sewage projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to documents reviewed by NPR.

It is the latest of a series of moves by the Trump administration to shut down U.S. aid to Palestinians, which is scheduled to end Feb 1.

In the little town of Bethlehem, Santa hops out of a red minivan, adjusts his round, gold-rimmed glasses and is briefed by his chauffeur, Mohammed Battah.

"Martin and Christina," the driver says, handing him two wrapped boxes.

"Martin!" Santa calls out, rapping his cane and ringing a golden bell as he ascends a stone staircase.

Four-year-old Martin cries at first, scared of the stranger with the white beard. Then, when he understands the man is Santa bringing his Christmas gift, he runs into his arms.

The Trump administration has slashed more than half a billion dollars in aid to the Palestinians this year. Now, the United States says it may cut more money for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In recent years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cultivated friendships with rising nationalist and far-right leaders in Europe. His supporters say it's a smart diplomatic move to chip away at the European Union's longtime critique of Israeli policies — the nationalist leaders tend to be pro-Israel. But some Israelis argue Netanyahu is too accommodating of these leaders' controversial views on Holocaust history.

He is one of President Trump's closest allies, and on the way to becoming the longest-serving prime minister in his country's history. But after almost a decade in power, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is battling a series of corruption allegations.

On Sunday, Israeli police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for receiving bribes and other criminal charges — the third and most severe corruption case he has faced this year. He denies wrongdoing and accuses the police of a witch hunt.

A heap of plastic leg sockets rests on a shelf. Palestinian technicians in white lab coats scurry past.

They slip into side rooms to sand down leg molds, mix chemicals, cut and polish plastics with big machines, and screw together rods. Tables and floors are speckled with white plaster. Saws and hammers hang from the walls.

"This is the workshop," says Mohammed Dwema, director of the Artificial Limbs and Polio Center in Gaza City.

"Donald Trump!" said Melissa Brunner from Georgia, as she posed for a photo in front of the recently inaugurated U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Beckah Shae, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter popular on Christian radio, snapped selfies alongside the creamy limestone wall inscription reading: "EMBASSY/UNITED STATES OF AMERICA/JERUSALEM, ISRAEL/DONALD J. TRUMP/PRESIDENT."

Israeli authorities are defending a recent series of interrogations of left-wing activists at Israel's airport and borders, saying the practice is necessary to prevent violence and terrorism.

But a prominent civil rights advocate in the country called the government's justification "shameful and dangerous."

The Trump administration has confirmed it will no longer fund peace-building programs for Palestinians and Israelis — including an interfaith youth program and a project for children with disabilities.

It's the latest in a series of announcements of the U.S. cutting hundreds of millions of dollars for Palestinians, with the aim of pressuring Palestinian leaders to cooperate with U.S. efforts to broker a peace deal with Israel.

The Trump administration announced Friday that it has cut nearly all the money the U.S. had planned to spend on aid projects for the Palestinians this year —including money to address a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The Trump administration could be on the verge of cutting millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinians, funds that could be critical at a time when there's a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, current and former U.S. officials tell NPR.

Early this year, the United States froze most of the $251 million earmarked for Palestinian aid projects, after the Palestinian Authority protested the administration's recognition of the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Updated at 12:11 p.m. ET

The United States has long boasted of giving more money to help the Palestinian people in recent decades, in development and humanitarian aid, than any other country has.

But not this year.

The Trump administration is withholding millions of dollars in aid for the Palestinians, even money that seeks to address a deepening humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Pages