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Israel freezes UNESCO funding over Palestinian membership

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REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday ordered his government to freeze the country’s $2-million-a-year funding of UNESCO in protest of the organization’s vote to grant the Palestinians full membership.

The order came two days after the Israeli Cabinet announced that it would step up construction in West Bank settlement blocs and suspend the transfer of taxes it collects for the Palestinian Authority.

On Monday, the U.S. announced it would stop funding UNESCO, including $60 million it had planned to be transfer to the U.N. cultural agency this month. Canada is halting voluntary contributions to the agency but won’t be cutting federal funds.

Netanyahu instructed that the Israeli money withheld from UNESCO be directed to other cooperative initiatives in the region that have similar goals.

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Thursday’s measure was one of several aimed at registering Israel’s opposition to what it views as a unilateral diplomatic campaign by the Palestinians. ‘Such steps will not advance peace; they will only push it further away,’ Netanyahu said. ‘The only way to reach peace is through direct negotiations without preconditions.’

Meanwhile, at a news conference in Ramallah on Thursday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said that the Palestinian Authority for now would not be seeking admittance to other U.N. agencies and would instead concentrate efforts on its main objective: full state membership of the United Nations.

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-- Batsheva Sobelman


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