JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke his silence on the collapsing peace talks Sunday by blaming Palestinian leaders for the current crisis and threatening retaliatory steps.
In remarks at his weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that just as the parties were nearing an agreement last week to extend the U.S.-brokered negotiations through the end of 2014, Palestinian leaders announced their decision to sign on to 15 treaties and conventions under the auspices of the United Nations.
"The Palestinians' threats to appeal to the U.N. will not affect us. The Palestinians have much to lose by this unilateral move," Netanyahu said. "These will only push a peace agreement farther away, and unilateral steps on their part will be met with unilateral steps on our part."
Israel's retaliatory actions could include withholding transfers of millions of dollars in taxes and fees that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinians say that it is Israel that has pushed the talks toward collapse.
To restart the peace process, Netanyahu promised in July to release 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners, and in return, the Palestinians agreed not to seek greater recognition as a state from the United Nations. The Israelis released three groups, a total of 78 prisoners, but balked last week at freeing the last batch of 26 inmates.
The Palestinians say that the Israelis reneged on their promise and that they believe it to be within their rights to go the United Nations. Last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed documents that would allow the Palestinians to become parties to 15 international treaties guaranteeing, among other things, the rights of women, children, the disabled and civilians in times of war.
Netanyahu's remarks came after days of charges and countercharges as Palestinians and Israelis jockey to blame each other for the crisis.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that "it's reality-check time" as to whether a deal can be reached and whether the United States will continue to play a role in bringing the two sides closer.
Palestinians complain that nothing has been achieved in eight months of negotiations. "Israel wants never-ending negotiations," a top Palestinian official, Yasser Abed Rabbo, told Voice of Palestine radio.
Netanyahu said Sunday, "We are prepared to continue the talks, but not at any price."
Meanwhile, U.S. diplomat Martin Indyk convened another meeting between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators.