World Bulletin/News Desk
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Sunday to respond to earlier "unilateral" move by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who signed applications to join several international conventions following Israel's failure to abide by an earlier prisoner release agreement.
Speaking during a cabinet meeting Sunday morning, Netanyahu warned the Palestinians that they will lose a lot over the steps they had taken. Israel, he said, will respond to the Palestinian's unilateral move "with one of our own."
Israel is still willing to continue with the negotiations "but not without a price," Netanyahu went on to say.
The Israeli premier did not specify the nature of the response in question. However, reports in Israeli media over the past few days mentioned that the Israeli government might halt the collection of some $100 million worth of border-crossing taxes and custom tariffs collected monthly by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
Reports also hinted at a possible decision by Israel to ban the Palestinian Authority from carrying out construction projects in Area C, which covers 60 percent of the West Bank and is lying under full Israeli control.
Israel and the Palestinians resumed peace talks last July, with the mediation of the United States, after a three-year pause. However, the prospects for the talks appeared to crumble late last month after Israel halted the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, the fourth group scheduled for release according to a previous deal.
In response, Abbas formally applied for Palestinian membership in 15 U.N. conventions.
The Israeli premier's statements come only a few weeks before an April 29 negotiation deadline for the ongoing U.S.-sponsored talks.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that his administration would "evaluate" its role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying both sides had taken unhelpful steps, driving Washington to reconsider its position.
"This is not an open-ended effort; it never has been. It is reality-check time, and we intend to evaluate precisely what the next steps will be," Kerry told a press conference in Rabat. "It is regrettable that in the last few days both sides have taken steps that are not helpful, and that's evident to everybody."
"Unilateral steps on their part will be answered with unilateral steps on our side. We are willing to continue negotiations, but we will not do so at any price."
In an interview with Israeli Army Radio, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat bridled at calls by some of Netanyahu's cabinet ministers for economic sanctions against Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank.
"Why are you threatening us as if we are sending suicide bombers to Tel Aviv?" Erekat asked.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Safa Nassereldeen, the Palestinian minister of telecommunications, said Israel had informed a cellular phone company, Wataniya Palestine Mobile , it would no longer be allowed to bring equipment into the Gaza Strip, where it plans to operate a network.
An Israeli government spokesman declined immediate comment.
Israel, which imposes tough restrictions on the passage of people and goods across the Gaza border, had permitted the company - owned by the Palestine Investment Fund and Kuwait's National Mobile Telecommunications Co - to send hardware into the territory after the peace talks with Abbas resumed in July.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, an Abbas spokesman, said it was Israel that was taking unilateral steps through its continued settlement activities in occupied territory Palestinians seek for a state and its failure to release the prisoners.
The talks have struggled since they began in July, stalling over Palestinian opposition to Israel's demand that it be recognised as a Jewish state, and over Israeli settlements, internationally deemed illegal, in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
U.S. envoy Martin Indyk was due to meet the chief Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on Sunday to try to salvage the process.
In a statement on Abbas's adoption of international conventions, New York based-Human Rights Watch called on the United States to support rather than oppose his move to join core treaties on human rights and laws of war.
"It is disturbing that the Obama administration, which already has a record of resisting international accountability for Israeli rights abuses, would also oppose steps to adopt treaties requiring Palestinian authorities to uphold human rights," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.Last Mod: 06 Nisan 2014, 16:14