Israel hits back at Palestinian state vote by confiscating €92m
ISRAEL exacted a price for the United Nations' de facto recognition of Palestine by confiscating €92m in revenues even as the Palestinian president triumphantly told thousands of followers: "Now we have a state."
The Israeli move, coinciding with Mahmoud Abbas's arrival to a hero's welcome in the West Bank, came as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected last Thursday's resounding vote granting the Palestinians full UN observer status.
It left the Palestinian Authority (PA) facing a financial black hole that could prevent it from paying the salaries of thousands of workers, just as Mr Abbas in Ramallah exhorted his countrymen to celebrate "a decisive landmark on the path of our national struggle".
The decision was the latest sign of Israel's mounting fury over last week's vote and came two days after Mr Netanyahu's government announced it would build 3,000 settlers' homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, effectively annexing land the Palestinians have earmarked as part of a future state.
Israel's finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, said this month's PA tax revenues would be withheld to pay off its debts to the Israel Electric Corporation, which supplies the Palestinians with power.
Israel transfers money to the PA as part of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, which is designed to pave the way towards a two-state solution.
The decision was condemned by a senior Palestinian official, Yasser Abed Rabbo, as "piracy and theft".
Speaking before yesterday's weekly cabinet meeting, Mr Netanyahu called the Palestinians' bid for enhanced UN recognition a "gross violation" of their agreements and insisted that he would push ahead with further settlement building.
"Today we are building and we will continue to build in Jerusalem and in all areas that are on the map of the strategic interests of the state of Israel," he said.
In further comments he appeared to justify settlement expansion as necessary to stop the West Bank becoming a launch pad for the kind of rocket attacks that Israel has encountered from Palestinian militants in Gaza, where Jewish settlements were dismantled in 2005.
"Israel will not allow Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) to become a terror base from which rockets will be launched into Israeli towns," he said.
An Israeli cabinet communique yesterday said the UN decision would "not constitute a basis for future negotiations" and dismissed it as containing "nothing that advances a solution by peaceful means".
Last Friday's announcement of new settlers' homes was denounced by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, who said it would damage the chances of achieving a two-state solution.
Mr Abbas has refused to return to peace talks without a freeze on settlement building. Speaking in Ramallah following his triumphal return from New York, he said Israel's moves were a reaction to the world saying "yes to a Palestinian state (and) no to aggression, to these settlements and this occupation".
He said Palestinians now had to bring about reconciliation between his Fatah movement and Islamist organisations such as Hamas. (© Daily Telegraph, London)