Israel last night announced that it would accelerate settlement construction and withhold tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority to punish it for joining the UN’s cultural arm.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, convened his inner cabinet yesterday to study proposals to sanction the Palestinian leadership after it won overwhelming international support on Monday for its bid to join UNESCO.
While some kind of punitive action was expected, the severity of Israel’s response suggested that Mr Netanyahu had bowed to pressure from right-wing ministers intent on exacting the heaviest penalty possible for what they saw as an act of Palestinian effrontery.
An Israeli government official defended the measures, saying that Mr Netanyahu had been left with no choice but to respond robustly to Palestinian “unilateralism” in its pursuit of UN membership and by what he claimed was the growing radicalism of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.
“You cannot demand that Israel continues to show restraint when the Palestinian leadership continues to slam the door in our face,” he said.
By withholding Palestinian customs revenues, Mr Netanyahu has taken a step that his defence establishment has countenanced against for fear that it could cause the collapse of the moderate Palestinian Authority.