Israel to speed up settlement building in West Bank

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for the accelerated construction of some 2,000 housing units in areas in the West Bank and around Jerusalem, an official statement said on Tuesday.

The statement came after Netanyahu called a special cabinet session to discuss the granting of full membership to the Palestinians by UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, a move opposed by Israel and the United States.

A senior government official said after the meeting that the cabinet had also decided to halt money transfers to the Palestinians Authority as a temporary measure until a final decision was made.

“You can’t demand from the Israeli public to continue to show restraint when the Palestinian leadership continues to slam the door in their face,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The statement said the new building will be in “areas that in any future arrangement will remain in Israel’s hands”.

The official said 1,650 of the new tenders are for units in eastern parts of Jerusalem, and the rest are for Efrat and Maale Adumim, Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

In the absence of peace talks, which collapsed about a year ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been seeking statehood recognition from the United Nations.

The Palestinians are looking to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

On Monday, UNESCO granted the Palestinians full membership. Israel called the move a “tragedy” that would hurt peace efforts, and the United States said as a result it would stop funding the organization.

Israel routinely transfers funds it collects from customs and other levies on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

Editing by Jon Hemming