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Netanyahu limits cabinet contact with Palestinian officials

Government officials in Israel have said Prime Minister Netanyahu has ordered his cabinet ministers not to meet with their counterparts in the Palestinian Authority. The move undermines efforts at peace talks.

The decision by Netanyahu to block cabinet level contact with the Palestinian Authority was communicated by Israel government officials on Wednesday. Israel's justice minister, Tzipi Livni, is exempt from the contact freeze due to her role as Israel's chief peace negotiator. Defense and security officials are also exempt.

The Palestinian Authority was critical of the move.

"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, referring to

peace talks

between Israel and the Palestinians that were restarted last July by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Both sides 'unhelpful'

According to an Israeli official quoted by Reuters news agency, Netanyahu issued the order after "the Palestinians' grave violation of their commitments in the framework of the peace talks."

Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 United Nations treaties and conventions that give his administration greater recognition. An agreement not to sign such documents had been a

precondition set by Israel

for talks to go ahead.

Israel had agreed to release some Palestinian prisoners and also to refrain from building additional housing settlements, but announced 700 new housing units would be constructed in Jerusalem. Earlier on Wednesday, Kerry had said both sides had taken "unhelpful" steps that were stalling the peace process.

Meetings rare

A State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Netanyahu's move to block cabinet-level meetings was "unfortunate."

"We believe that cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has provided benefits to both sides," she said.

Bseiso said such meetings between high-level officials are rare in the first place.

"This won't affect our daily life or government business," he added.

However, it could affect a tax collection agreement that exists between Israel and the Palestinians. Under interim peace accords, Israel collects taxes on behalf of Palestinians and then transfers the money. The amount is fixed in talks between the two sides' finance ministers, and is a significant amount of tax revenue for the Palestinians. Bseiso expressed concern that the tax transfers could be interrupted.

mz/dr (AP, AFP, dpa)

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