Bibi’s response to UNESCO vote: Speed up settlement building

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered housing construction in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank to be expedited in response to UNESCO’s vote granting full membership to the Palestinians.

The order to speed up construction of 2,000 housing units planned for eastern Jerusalem, Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim came from the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday evening following a meeting of Netanyahu and his inner Cabinet, which is made up of eight senior ministers. The group was discussing how to react to the UNESCO vote Monday by the U.N. cultural and scientific agency.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said the housing was in areas that would remain in Israel’s hands in any future peace deal.

The inner Cabinet also decided to withhold $82 million in tax money that Israel collected for the Palestinian Authority in October that is used to pay Palestinian policemen and government employees. The ministers also decided not to allow UNESCO missions to enter Israel, according to reports.

UNESCO approved the Palestinians’ membership bid during its general conference in Paris by a vote of 107 to 14, with the United States, Israel, Canada and Germany among those voting against the motion. Britain was among the 52 nations that abstained. France in a surprise voted for the Palestinians.

UNESCO is the first U.N. agency that the Palestinians have attempted to join since asking for full membership in the United Nations in September. It previously had observer status at the agency.

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