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Israel to Build 2,000 Housing Units in West Bank, Jerusalem

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photographer: Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images

Israel plans to move ahead with construction of about 2,000 homes in West Bank settlements and Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in the wake of Palestinian membership in Unesco.

Some of the apartments will be built in Maale Adumim, one of the biggest Jewish settlements, and in the cluster of settlements known as Gush Etzion, Netanyahu’s office said in a text message sent late yesterday to reporters. Others will be in parts of Jerusalem that Israel annexed and Palestinians want to include in a future state.

The new homes will be built “in areas that in any future arrangement will remain in Israeli hands,” Netanyahu said in the statement.

Palestine was admitted as the 195th member of the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization by a 107-14 vote on Oct. 31. The U.S., which opposes statehood efforts, saying Palestinians should negotiate a peace agreement with Israel first, announced it would withhold about $60 million from the agency this year. Federal law prohibits funding UN organizations that treat the Palestine Liberation Organization as a member-state.

Palestinians plan to seek full membership in 16 more UN agencies following their acceptance by Unesco. A PLO delegation represents the Palestinians at the UN.

‘Natural Right’

“We continue to pursue the Palestinian people’s natural and legal right to statehood and self-determination,” Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “These reckless measures will not intimidate us nor will they change our course of action.”

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee, called Netanyahu’s move “an obituary for the peace process.”

More steps are being considered by Netanyahu’s eight-member inner cabinet, according to the Israeli statement.

Israel may curtail its own funding of Unesco, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said yesterday before the housing decision was announced. Israel pays an annual $2 million to the organization, according to its Foreign Ministry.

“It would be odd to continue transferring funds to the organization when the U.S. itself has stopped the payments,” Steinitz said yesterday in an interview with Israel Radio.

The UN Security Council meets on Nov. 11 to discuss the final report of experts on the viability of a Sept. 23 Palestinian application for UN membership. The Palestinians may circumvent the Security Council and try to upgrade their UN status to “non-member state” from “entity” in the UN General Assembly, where they need a majority and the U.S. has no veto.

Foreign Minister Riad Malki said on Oct. 31 that Palestinian leaders are focused on trying to obtain full UN membership through the Security Council. If that fails, they will “discuss all options,” he said in a phone interview. The U.S. has vowed to veto the move.

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