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After UNESCO Vote, Israel Speeds Up Settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his forum of eight senior ministers decided Tuesday to initiate a new wave of settlement construction in the West Bank, as part of a wider set of sanctions Israel decided to impose on the Palestinian Authority after it was accepted to UNESCO as a member on Monday.

Netanyahu’s office said Tuesday that the construction of 2,000 housing units planned in East Jerusalem, Gush Etzion, and Ma’aleh Adumim should be expedited.

“All of the mentioned areas are ones that would remain in Israeli control under any future peace agreement,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

The eight senior ministers also decided to suspend the transfer of tax money which Israel has collected for the Palestinian Authority in October. The money, which amounts to more than NIS 300 million, was supposed to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority before the Eid al-Adha holiday, when the money was to be used to pay the salaries of policemen and clerks of the Palestinian Authority.

During Tuesday’s discussion, an argument erupted between Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak about whether to permanently halt the transfer of tax money to the PA. Barak maintained that halting the tax money transfer will jeopardize the future of the security coordination with the Palestinians in the West Bank, while Steinitz supported the move.

Moreover, the eight ministers also decided to no longer allow UNESCO missions into Israel, and to examine the possibility of revoking the VIP status of senior Palestinian officials which allows them to pass through checkpoints.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded to the decision on Tuesday, saying that Israel had decided “to speed up the destruction of the peace process” by deciding to accelerate the construction of settlements on land where the Palestinians aim to found an independent state.

Nabil Abu Rdainah also described as “inhumane” Israel’s decision to temporarily halt transfers of funds to the Palestinian Authority.

On Monday, UNESCO accepted the Palestinian Authority as a full member of the organization.

In response, the U.S. decided to cut off funding to the UN cultural body. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday that since the vote triggered a long-standing congressional restriction on funding to UN bodies that recognize Palestine as a state before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached.

Following the vote on Palestinian membership, Israel also warned it will now reconsider its cooperation with UNESCO.

UNESCO is the first UN agency that the Palestinians sought to join as a full member since Palestinian President Abbas applied for full membership of the United Nations on Sept. 23.

For more, go to Haaretz.com

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