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A construction worker working on a new housing unit in east Jerusalem today
A construction worker working on a new housing unit in east Jerusalem today
Image: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

Israel to speed up construction of settlements after Palestinians join UNESCO

Around 2,000 homes will be constructed in the Israeli settlements in retaliation for UN vote to allow Palestinian membership.
Nov 3rd 2011, 7:15 AM 263 10

ISRAEL HAS SAID that it plans to accelerate construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as a  direct response to UNESCO admitting Palestinians as a full member.

Israel has also put a temporary stop to the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority.

The  Palestinians won full membership of UNESCO, the UN’s cultural and educational agency, on Monday. The United States has already announced that it is withholding funding for the body in protest at the democratic result.

The building of roughly 2,000 homes in the disputed region will now be expedited by the Israelis.

Israeli cabinet ministers agreed on the measures – as well as a ban on UNESCO missions to Israel – following the tense vote on allowing Palestinian membership.

Israel announced late Tuesday that it has ordered accelerated construction for Israelis in east Jerusalem, the section claimed by the Palestinians as their capital, and nearby West Bank settlements.

An Israeli official said the new construction is an answer to recent unilateral moves by the Palestinians, singling out the acceptance of Palestine by UNESCO. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, he also mentioned Palestinian refusal to condemn rocket fire from Gaza.

Palestinians demand an end to all construction in Israeli settlements before peace talks can resume. Israel rejects that as a precondition, insisting that the issue of settlements will be resolved when borders are defined through negotiations.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the housing project, saying Israel had “chosen settlements over peace”.

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat said the announcement had little practical meaning because the projects had already been approved.

He noted that no one was demanding — or would accept — a freeze in construction in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, and even housing developments seen as intended for Jews are by law actually open to everyone.

“I cannot tell people where to live,” Barkat said in a meeting with foreign correspondents in his office. “We have no control over the private sector, nor are we going to ask people if they’re Jewish or not.”

The United Nations is currently considering whether to grant full membership to the Palestinians. A vote is expected later this month.

- additional reporting by AP

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Christine Bohan

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