JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened the Palestinians on Sunday with unilateral reprisals as the two sides prepared for last-ditch talks with a U.S. envoy on salvaging teetering peace talks.
He said Israel would retaliate if the Palestinians proceed with applications to adhere to 15 international treaties.
“These will only make a peace agreement more distant,” he said of the applications the Palestinians made on Tuesday.
“Any unilateral moves they take will be answered by unilateral moves at our end.”
Netanyahu’s remarks, made at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting, came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators prepared to meet U.S. envoy Martin Indyk in an attempt to save the peace process from collapse.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the driving force behind the peace push, warned on Friday that there were “limits” to the time and energy Washington could devote to the talks process, as his appeals to both sides to step back from the brink fell on deaf ears.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas rejected a plea from Kerry to withdraw the treaty applications, and Netanyahu ignored U.S. appeals to refrain from tit-for-tat moves, asking for a range of retaliatory options to be drawn up.
Israel says Abbas’s move was a clear breach of the commitments the Palestinians gave when the talks were relaunched in July to pursue no other avenues for recognition of their promised state.
The Palestinians say Israel had already reneged on its own undertakings by failing to release a fourth and final batch of prisoners last weekend, and that the treaty move was their response.
“The Palestinians have much to lose from a unilateral move. They will get a state only through direct negotiations and not through empty declarations or unilateral moves,” Netanyahu said on Sunday.
“We are prepared to continue talks, but not at any price.”
Netanyahu noted the Palestinian application to the international institutions came “the moment before agreeing on the continuation of the talks” beyond their April 29 deadline.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, general secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee, blamed the latest talks crisis on Israel which “wants to extend the negotiations for ever” as it creates “more facts on the ground.”
“Israel always implements unilateral steps,” he told Voice of Palestine radio, saying the Palestinians were already being punished by Israel.
Officials from Netanyahu down have been cautious not to specify the exact nature of punitive measures Israel might take.
But media reports mention preventing Wataniya Palestine Telecom from laying down cellphone infrastructure in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and halting Palestinian construction projects in parts of the West Bank.
Israel’s chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, suggested that Washington scale down its “intensive” involvement in the process with the Palestinians.
“Part of what took place in the past months was primarily negotiations between us and the US, and less with the Palestinians,” she told Channel 2 television on Saturday.
“We need bilateral meetings between us, including between the prime minister and Abu Mazen (Abbas),” she added.