Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are continuing to deteriorate, with leading Palestinians threatening unilateral action while Israel once again raises PA violations of signed accords.
Since Prime Minister Ehud Barak's government took power last May, it has avoided raising Palestinian infringements publicly, in contrast to the previous administration of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
That changed this week, when Foreign Minister David Levy chastised the PA for not honoring its commitments regarding security and other issues. Foreign Minister David Levy also rapped the PA over the knuckles for other violations of signed agreements.
Levy said a "terrorist infrastructure" continued to operation in areas under PA control, "like an inactive volcano in danger of erupting." He charged that incitement against Israel was continuing in Palestinian schools, and noted that Israeli flags and pictures of Barak were burned during Palestinian demonstrations.
The statement seemed to indicate a shift in Israeli policy, which (since Barak was elected last June) has been silent on the issue of PA obligations in accords. Just weeks ago, neither Barak's office nor the Foreign Ministry could give CNSNews.com any information on this subject.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Daniel Saada told CNSNews.com that Levy's statement did not reflect a return to the policy of the former government. Netanyahu insisted that the PA fulfill its obligations and reported on its progress, a policy that contributed to a complete breakdown in talks.
Saada said the statements on PA non-compliance represented an "adaptation" to the present reality. The government was not willing to ignore the failure of the PA to fulfill its obligations. By pointing out infringements it hoped to "clear the air" for progress in the talks.
As tensions simmered, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Ahmed Qureia, warned that the PA would seize territory in the West Bank by force if Israel did not hand it over willingly soon.
He said that Israel was expected to transfer 93 percent of the disputed West Bank according to interim peace accords, and that Israel was trying to avoid its obligations by delaying the move.
"We will deliver it to ourselves and we will put our Palestinian police there," if there is no progress, Qureia said. Such a step would not be easy for the Palestinians to take, but they "must be prepared for any developments."
Barak's office declined to react to Qureia's statement, although the Foreign Ministry disputed Qureia's interpretation of previous accords.
"Ninety-three percent was always the aspiration of the Palestinians," although Israel had never promised a specified amount of land it would cede in a final agreement, Saada told CNSNews.com.
The ministry said 11.8 percent of the West Bank is now under complete PA control. Another 21.7 percent is under PA civilian control, while Israel maintains overall security responsibility. Eighty-nine percent of the Gaza Strip is under full PA control while three percent is jointly run.
It was understood that the PA-administered areas in which Israel maintains security control would eventually be transferred entirely to the PA.
Talks between Israel and the PA broke down several weeks ago over a dispute concerning which a land would be transferred to the PA in a scheduled 6.1 percent Israeli pullback. The PA was hoping for Arab suburbs of Jerusalem to be handed over and wanted to have a say in which territory they were being given.
Israel has maintained throughout the six years of negotiations that it has the sole right to determine which territory it will relinquish.
There is also dispute over Barak's desire to incorporate another agreed-upon redeployment - beyond the 6.1 percent one - into a final agreement, which will also include a final pullback. But the PA wants as much land as it can get ahead of a final arrangement, due to be signed by September 13.
Earlier this week, Faisal Husseini, PA minister in charge of Jerusalem Affairs, raised the temperature by declaring that meetings between foreign dignitaries and PA representatives will from now on be held at Orient House - the PA's de facto Foreign Ministry - or elsewhere in eastern Jerusalem.
The Oslo Accords prohibit official Palestinian political activity in Israel's disputed capital. Internationally, no countries recognize Israeli sovereignty over the eastern part of Jerusalem, and few nations recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Husseini's declaration followed a visit by European Commission President Romani Prodi, who cancelled a meeting with PA officials at Orient House because of Israeli pressure. The meeting was eventually held at a church in eastern Jerusalem.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry expressed its "dismay" over Husseini's statement and said it constituted a "flagrant violation of the legal obligations" the PLO had agreed to fulfill as part of previous accords.
"Jerusalem, in its entirety, is not within the areas of PA authority," a ministry statement said, adding that it expected foreign diplomats not to meet with the PA there.