Palestinians punished by Israel for joining Unesco

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The Independent Online

Israel has vowed to speed up construction in occupied Palestinian territory and freeze the transfer of crucial tax revenues, in a series of retaliatory measures against the Palestinians for seeking membership of Unesco.

The measures will infuriate the international community, which views all Jewish construction in occupied territory as illegal, while raising the pressure on the Palestinian Authority (PA) as it struggles to pay salaries amid a worsening economic crisis in the West Bank.

Nabi Abu Rudeina, a Palestinian official, slammed the decision, saying it would, "accelerate the destruction of the peace process".

Israel had been expected to press ahead with punitive measures after Unesco members voted overwhelmingly to admit the Palestinians to the educational, scientific and cultural body in Paris on Monday, despite objections from Israel and the US. The decision handed the Palestinians a diplomatic victory but Israel responded that it changed nothing on the ground, while undermining peace talks.

Members of Benjamin Netan-yahu's Cabinet had sought harsh measures against the Palestinians and, after a meeting last night, it said Israel would speed up the construction of some 2,000 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, land earmarked by the Palestinians for a future state. Israel will also temporarily freeze the transfer of the tax revenues that it collects on behalf of the PA. When Israel last halted the transfer of funds several months ago, it forced the authority to suspend civil servant salaries.

Both moves are likely to fan tensions in the West Bank, where a worsening economic situation has already fed into frustrations that Israel is not serious about a peace deal.

The Unesco application has been touted by some Palestinian officials as a trial run for their efforts to seek statehood recognition in the UN, which is expected to come to the vote this month. But Washington has vowed to block the bid in the Security Council, where it has a veto.

Speaking after Monday's vote, Mr Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of seeking a "state without a deal".

"We won't sit around idly in the wake of these moves that harm Israel and are a crude violation of the most elementary commitment the sides took upon themselves in the peace process – to solve the conflict between us through negotiations only," said Israel's Prime Minister.

The Palestinian bid to join Unesco immediately cost it nearly a quarter of its funding because Washington is obliged by law to sever funding to any UN body according the Palestine Liberation Organisation the same standing as a state.