Israel mulls response to UNESCO Palestine vote
Israel’s government was expected to examine possible punitive measures on Tuesday in response to UNESCO's decision to grant Palestinians full membership, a move that prompted the US to cut its funds for the UN cultural agency.
AFP - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his inner cabinet on Tuesday to weigh a response, including possible punitive measures, to UNESCO’s decision to admit Palestine as a full member.
Israeli media reported that the so-called Forum of Eight would meet on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the best way to respond to Monday’s UNESCO vote, which handed the Palestinians a key diplomatic victory and angered Israel.
“We will look at how we will respond to this vote,” a senior Israeli official told AFP.
The Palestinian bid for UNESCO membership, which comes as the Palestinians also seek to become a United Nations member state, was approved despite strong opposition from the United States and Israel.
The vote will cost the organisation its US funding, which makes up 22 percent of its budget, because US law requires Washington to cut funds to any UN organisation that admits Palestine as a full member.
Both Washington and Israel had lobbied the organisation to delay the vote, with the Jewish state warning that the membership bid was unilateral and would jeopardise the chances of reviving negotiations.
Israel’s foreign ministry condemned what it called a “unilateral Palestinian manoeuvre which will bring no change on the ground but further removes the possibility for a peace agreement.”
Netanyahu also condemned the Palestinian bid on Monday, describing it as an attempt to seek “a state without a deal.”
“Instead of sitting around the negotiating table, they chose to make a covenant with Hamas and take unilateral steps at the UN,” he said at the opening of the Israeli parliament on Monday.
“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.”
Israel’s deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said on Tuesday that the Jewish state would “weigh its reactions to this vote at the diplomatic and political level, taking its interests into account.”
Israeli media reported that a wide range of punitive measures against the Palestinians would be weighed during the cabinet meeting.
The Haaretz daily, citing an unnamed senior Israeli official, said the government would consider measures including accelerating controversial settlement building and suspending its transfer of tax and tariff funds to the Palestinian Authority.
Israel is also considering withdrawing the special movement permits it has granted to members of the Palestinian leadership that allow them to move with relative ease inside the Jewish state, the newspaper reported.
Shortly before the vote on Monday, Israel’s ultra-nationalist foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman called on the Israeli government to “break all its ties with the Palestinian Authority” in response to the bid.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel was also considering measures against UNESCO, including suspending its cooperation with the organisation. Israel contributes about three percent of UNESCO’s annual budget.
The Jewish state has had strained ties with UNESCO for some time, and in 2010 announced it was suspending ties over several resolutions referring to holy sites in the occupied West Bank.
But the statement was quickly retracted, with the foreign ministry citing a “translation error” and saying it was only suspending cooperation with UNESCO at certain sites, including the West Bank sites covered by the resolutions.
Winning membership in UNESCO will allow the Palestinians, who previously held observer status at the organisation, to apply to classify its natural and cultural sites as World Heritage Sites.