An Israeli source reported on Thursday that the security-political cabinet has decided to suspend talks with the Palestinian Authority on operating bus convoys between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
The decision comes in direct violation to an agreement reached last month in talks brokered by U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.
The convoys were supposed to start operating next Thursday; truck convoys were slated to begin in mid-January, 2006.
Sharon’s office has notified the United States that it has decided to suspend talks on Tuesday, after senior cabinet members approved the measure which was recommended by Israeli security officials after the Netanya suicide bombing.
David Welch, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, is due to arrive on Thursday to discuss issues including the convoys, the Karni crossing and the Gaza airport, Israeli online daily Haaretz reported.
The Israeli cabinet decided that talks would only be renewed “only after the Palestinian Authority fulfils its obligations against the Palestinian armed groups”.
Meanwhile, an Israeli security official linked the decision to a disagreement over the supervision of the Rafah terminal, between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Israel claims that Palestinian officials are not allowing the terminal to be monitored effectively, which “enables hostile elements to enter the Gaza Strip”.
The official added that as long as Israel is unable to monitor the entry into the Gaza Strip, it cannot allow the Palestinians “to go through Israel on their way to the West Bank”.
Maj. Gen. Yosef Mishlav, the Israeli coordinator of government activities in the territories, had been ordered to cancel all meetings scheduled with Palestinian officials.
Previous meeting between Israel and the P.A were headed by Mishlav, and the Palestinian team was headed by P.A Civil Affairs minister, Mohammad Dahlan, did not achieve significant concrete results.
One of the main conflicting issues, was the issue of movement of the Palestinian residents; the P.A demands that the Palestinian residents should be allowed to move between the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but Israel wants only Gaza residents to be allowed to enter the West Bank, and says they should be allowed to stay there no more than 10 days.
Also, the P.A rejected an Israeli demand stating that Palestinian men between 16 and 35 are not allowed to cross from one area to another.
The American working paper presented to both sides proposes that the West Bank and Gaza be connected via five convoys per day, each of which would consist of five buses that would transport a total of 1,800 passengers a day.
Israel apposed the paper and said that no more than 250 passengers a day should be allowed to cross between the Eretz crossing, on the Gaza-Israel border, and the Taqoumia checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Hebron.
The United States proposed that the buses go from the Gaza Strip to stops in the central and northern West Bank, since the checkpoints make it difficult to get from the Hebron area to the rest of the West Bank.
Several western diplomats stated on Wednesday that participants at London conference, next week, are likely to criticize Israel for failing to implement its side of the agreement.
James Wolfensohn, the Quartet’s Mideast envoy, said that Israel should not be allowed to close the Gaza border crossing in reaction to bombing which are unconnected to the Gaza strip.