Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered ministers to limit contact with their Palestinian counterparts as the Arab League blamed his government on Wednesday for the “dangerous stalemate” in US-brokered peace talks.
The moves came a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry, who started the talks in July last year after a nearly three-year hiatus, blamed Israel for derailing the process by announcing new settlement construction.
“In response to the Palestinian violation of their commitments under peace talks... Israel government ministers have been told to refrain from meeting their Palestinian counterparts,” an Israeli official said.
Palestinian Labor Minister Ahmad Majdalani downplayed the significance of the move.
“There are no [regular] meetings organized between Palestinian and Israeli ministers, apart from the finance ministers,” Majdalani said.
A Palestinian government source said the Israelis might move to block tax revenue collected by Israel on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf and an Israeli official confirmed that the government “envisaged withholding part of the amounts remitted... each month in reaction to the unilateral Palestinian moves.”
The official added that the “important sums” given to Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and to their families each month by the Palestinian Authority is a “form of supporting terrorism.”
“We envisage holding back the equivalent of that” unspecified amount, the source said.
Approximately 5,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails.
The Palestinian Authority pays prisoners a monthly “salary” that runs from US$400 for those serving less than three years to more than US$3,000 for sentences above 30 years.
Washington denounced Netanyahu’s order as “unfortunate.”
“We believe that cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has provided benefits to both sides,” US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “We continue to urge both sides to take steps that contribute to a conducive environment for peace.”
Arab foreign ministers gathered in Cairo with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel was “wholly responsible for the dangerous stalemate.”
At the Cairo meeting, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi accused Israel of dragging its feet.
“Gaining time is a strategic objective for Israel,” al-Arabi told reporters.
On Tuesday, Kerry said Israel’s approval on Tuesday last week of Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem ignited the latest crisis in the negotiations, a charge that left Israeli officials bristling.
While he cited intransigence on both sides, Kerry said a delayed Israeli plan to release several Palestinian prisoners as part of a good faith effort was sabotaged by the settlements move.
“In the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof, that was sort of the moment,” Kerry told the US Senate.