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Israel approves first West Bank settler homes since Gulf deals

Israel approved 2,166 new homes in settlements across the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, official figures sent to AFP showed, ending an eight-month lull in settlement expansion. 

The approvals came less than a month after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements to normalise relations with Israel, which in return pledged to freeze its plans to annex swathes of the West Bank.

NGO Peace Now said the settlement uptick signals Israel’s rejection of Palestinian statehood and deals a blow to hopes of a wider Israeli-Arab peace.

It said that around 2,000 more homes are expected to be approved on Thursday.

“Netanyahu is moving ahead at full steam toward solidifying the de facto annexation of the West Bank,” it said in a statement ahead of Wednesday’s decisions.

US President Donald Trump sees the Gulf accords as part of his broader initiative for Middle East peace.

But a controversial plan he unveiled in January gave US blessing to Israeli annexation of large chunks of the West Bank, including the settlements, communities considered illegal under international law. 

Israel agreed to delay those plans under its normalisation deal with the UAE, something Emirati officials have cited in response to Arab and Muslim criticism.

The two Gulf countries were only the third and fourth Arab states to normalise relations with Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he sees others following.

The Palestinians condemned the accords and quit the rotating presidency of the Arab League in protest at its failure to take a stand against them.

The Gulf agreements broke with years of Arab League policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which made its resolution a precondition for normalising ties with Israel.

The latest settlement plans, for a total of more than 4,000 new homes, were

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Hawaiian defense contractor with Maine offices charged with bank fraud

A Hawaiian defense contractor whose business has offices and employees in Maine has been accused of falsifying loan applications to receive $12.8 million in federal funds from a coronavirus relief program.

Martin Kao was arrested Wednesday and charged with bank fraud and money laundering. The news was first reported by Civil Beat, a Hawaii-based investigative news organization.

According to a 37-page criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, Kao is suspected of lying on two applications to receive funds under the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, part of the CARES Act passed by Congress in late March to address the pandemic. Maine Sen. Susan Collins was a co-author of the act.

Kao and several of his employees have donated to Collins’ reelection campaign, and the two appeared together in Maine last summer when Collins announced an $8 million federal contract to his company, Navartek LLC, now known as Martin Defense Group.

Investigators believe Kao, when applying for PPP loans, deliberately overstated his company’s need for relief, inflated the number of his employees and used a subsidiary company so that he could apply twice. They also allege Kao transferred $2 million in PPP funds to a personal bank account.

The complaint also indicates that Kao told officials at the banks that were delivering the PPP loans that he works closely with unamed U.S. senators and said some senators or their staff had advised him on the application process.

“[The Senator] is suggesting a conference call with his Banking Committee and SBA staff director . . . SHE HELPED WRITE THE PPP RULES. . . . . ,” he wrote in an email to a bank executive, according to the complaint. “She has confirmed directly that CPB should and is obligated to fund once SBA issues the approval number.

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Bank of England seeks to increase competition in home loans

LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England (BoE) set out proposals on Wednesday to end unfair advantages some banks have in calculating how much capital to hold for mortgages in a bid to increase competition.

Some bigger banks can use their own internal models for determining the risk weightings and therefore capital levels for home loans they have granted.

Typically this has resulted in lower capital levels than under the so-called standardised approach to risk weightings set out by regulators that many smaller lenders have to use.

The BoE’s banks supervision arm, the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), said it wanted to reduce risks that stem from “inappropriately” low risk weightings that can be thrown up by in-house models.

“For those firms whose risk weights may increase as a result of these proposals, and where capital requirements are not already determined by other capital measures (e.g. leverage), there would be costs for the firm associated with the additional capital required,” the PRA said in a statement.

The proposals would narrow differences between in-house models and the standardised approach and limit future divergence, it said.

“The PRA considers that this would support competition between firms on the different approaches,” the PRA said.

Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Potter

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