Netanyahu freezes negotiations with Palestinian Authority
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 (PA).
A spokesman for the PA, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-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 defence and security officials, Israeli officials said. A US 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 Palestinian Authority 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 US Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Israel's announcement on April 1 of plans to build about 700 housing units in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want for the capital of a future state, was the immediate cause of talks plunging into crisis.
Washington described the Israeli decision as "unfortunate," but State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the sides were still "engaging in serious and intensive efforts to find a way out of the current impasse".
An Israeli official told reporters that Israel had taken what he called "very modest steps" after the Palestinians signed the conventions. "If they (the Palestinians) continue on this path, we have other options," the official said.
Another punitive Israeli step under "serious consideration" was to deduct up to $75 million in tax revenue transfers to the Palestinians, the Israeli official said.
Citing Palestinian figures, Israel estimates this is the sum of annual Palestinian aid provided to their prisoners in Israeli jails convicted of violence, including lethal attacks.