Netanyahu orders cutback in contacts with Palestinian Authority

Netanyahu orders cutback in contacts with Palestinian Authority
# 10 April 2014 00:49 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. Israel announced on Wednesday a partial freeze in high-level contacts with the Palestinians and also threatened economic steps after they signed international conventions, deepening a crisis menacing U.S.-brokered peace talks, APA reports quoting Reuters.

Israeli government officials said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had ordered cabinet members, directors-general of government ministries and other senior officials not to meet their counterparts in the Palestinian Authority.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank, said Israeli-Palestinian ministerial meetings were rare but voiced concern about the possibility of Israeli economic sanctions.

The order does not apply to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief peace negotiator, or to defense and security officials, they said. A U.S. mediator has held a series of meetings over the past week to try to push the troubled talks past an original April 29 deadline for a deal.

"This decision undermines all international efforts ... to revive the negotiations, to proceed with a constructive solution to the challenges facing the peace process," said PA spokesman Ehab Bseiso.

An Israeli official said Netanyahu had issued the order in response to "the Palestinians' grave violation of their commitments in the framework of the peace talks" - a reference to the signing of 15 international agreements last week.

The ban was imposed just hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Israel's announcement on April 1 of plans to build about 700 housing units in East Jerusalem was the immediate cause of talks plunging into crisis.

Kerry's comments in testimony to Congress on Tuesday raised eyebrows in Netanyahu's governing coalition. "To accuse us of causing this? I think he's wrong," Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told Israel Radio.

At his Congressional appearance, Kerry said both sides had taken "unhelpful" steps in recent days and that he hoped they would find a way to resume serious negotiations, noting they had held a lengthy meeting on Monday.

An Israeli official told Reuters Israel had taken what he called "very modest steps" after the conventions were signed. "If they (the Palestinians) continue on this path, we have other options," the official added.

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