Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Ahead of U.S. Mideast mediation efforts scheduled for later this week, the Palestinian Authority and Israel are digging in their heals for a fight, should agreement not be reached at the negotiating table.
PA Chairman Yasser Arafat objected to a warning by Israel's army chief, Lieutenant-General Shaul Mofaz, that Israel would be ready to use tanks and attack helicopters if violence broke out in the disputed territories.
Responding to Arafat's complaints, Prime Minister Ehud Barak's office assured him that Israel was prepared to exhaust "all chances of reaching an agreement that will assure Israel's vital interests."
The Israeli army "is in constant contact with Palestinian security officials with the goal of preventing misunderstandings and thereby contributing to achieving security and quiet," the statement said.
Security experts told an inner cabinet meeting on Sunday that Arafat wanted an agreement with Israel, but had not ruled out the option of confrontation to obtain the results he wanted.
Adding to the war of words, another PA official warned that violence was in the offing if talks did not go well. Justice Minister Freih Abu Meddein said the PA was ready to sacrifice thousands of lives in the event that the situation came down to a military confrontation with Israel.
"It is forbidden to say things like this," Foreign Minister David Levy said in reaction Monday.
"Leaders are obligated to prevent the death of the people," Levy said in a statement. "Israel will not fold under the threats and warnings like this."
"The meaning of peace is first of all the end of the thought of [using] violent force and the Palestinians have not yet paid attention to this," he added.
The Issue of Land
Meanwhile tens of thousands of Jewish resident from communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip converged on Jerusalem Monday evening to protest what has been rumored as Barak's willingness to relinquish control of some 90 per cent of the disputed West Bank.
Such a move would compel many of the more than 200,000 Israelis who live in those areas to move from their homes - or choose to live under PA control.
Israeli citizens from the disputed territories, which they consider the biblical heartland of Israel, called a strike on Monday and their children boycotted school classes to attend protests in the capital.
According to a previous agreement, Israel is due to hand over more territory to the PA Friday. Arafat wants more than 90 per cent of the territory, while Barak wants to postpone the transfer and combine it with the signing of a preliminary framework agreement.
According to Palestinian sources, Israel is considering whether to hand over an Arab village near Jerusalem in place of the scheduled land transfer. But Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said Monday the transfer of the village, Abu Dis was not on the agenda right now.
The Israeli parliament has already voted to transfer Abu Dis, but the move was postponed after Palestinian policemen opened fire on Israeli soldiers during rioting last month.
Sneh said an inquiry into the shooting was still underway and Israel was still awaiting PA "guarantees that such events will never [happen] again."
Palestinian groups opposed to the peace process have been calling for Palestinians to follow the Hizballah approach, and take to the streets in violent protest against Israel.
Hizballah has claimed as a military victory Israel's decision to withdraw from South Lebanon in May.
During a weekend rally in PA-ruled Bethlehem, some 5,000 Islamic protestors burned Israeli flags and celebrated what they called an Arab victory in Southern Lebanon.
In a message broadcast to the rally, Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said the Palestinians would not give up until they were "victorious or martyred."
Dozens of Hamas members have "martyred" themselves in suicide bombings which have taken the lives of hundreds of Israeli civilians in recent years.