Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday brushed off world condemnation of Israel’s plans to expand Jewish settlements after the Palestinians won de facto U.N. recognition of statehood.
“We will carry on building in Jerusalem and in all the places that are on the map of Israel’s strategic interests,” a defiant Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting.
In another blow to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, Israel also announced it was withholding Palestinian tax revenues this month worth about $100 million because of a $200 million PA debt to the Israeli Electric Corporation.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official, said confiscation of the funds due the cash-strapped Authority and vital to meeting its payroll, was “piracy and theft”.
Stung by the U.N. General Assembly’s upgrading on Thursday of the Palestinians’ status from “observer entity” to “non-member state”, Israel said on Friday it would build 3,000 more settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Palestinians want for a future state, along with Gaza.
An Israeli official said the government also ordered “preliminary zoning and planning work” for thousands of housing units in areas including the so-called “E1” zone near Jerusalem.
Such construction could divide the West Bank in two and further dim Palestinian hopes, backed by the United States and other international sponsors of the Middle East peace process, for a contiguous country.
But Israeli officials said it could up to two years before any building begins in E1.
At the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said the “unilateral step the Palestinians took at the U.N. is a gross violation of previous agreements signed with Israel”. The government of Israel, he added, “rejects the General Assembly’s vote”.