Israel originally agreed to cooperate with the U.N. effort, but in the last week it has expressed increasing objections about the composition of the team and the scope of its mission. It has sought several delays in the team's arrival and sent representatives to New York to clarify the investigators' mandate and try to add military and counter-terrorism experts to their number.
Sunday, after seven hours of Cabinet discussion, Israeli Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin told reporters that the U.N. had reneged on commitments made to Israel about the inquiry, making injustice in its conclusions almost inevitable.
"This awful United Nations committee is out to get us and is likely to smear Israel," Rivlin said. "No country in the world would agree to such a thing."
Meir, the Foreign Ministry official, said that although Israel was continuing to negotiate with the U.N. over the mission, conditions for the team's arrival were not yet "ripe." When they are, he said, the government will cooperate fully.
Palestinians have objected to Israel's postponements of the mission and did so again Sunday.
"We're asking the secretary-general to send the team and let Sharon turn them back from the airport if he wants to do that," Erekat said. "Let the world see what they are trying to hide."
Also Sunday, negotiators made no progress on efforts to end the 26-day-old standoff at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, traditionally held to be the site of Jesus' birth.
About 200 Palestinians and 40 clerics, their supplies of food and water limited, have remained trapped inside the 4th century basilica since the beginning of the Israeli incursion into Bethlehem on April 2.
Israel now believes that at least 10 wanted men are holed up with the Palestinians, and it has demanded their exile or trial. The Palestinians have proposed sending the men to Gaza for trial by Palestinian authorities.
On Sunday, Palestinian negotiators asked to talk with the men inside and bring them food, saying permission for them to do so would be a good-faith gesture by Israel. Israeli military officials said that they were considering the request and that negotiations would continue.
The military "is taking every possible measure to ensure that both the hostages and the terrorists are released in a quick and safe manner," said Capt. Sharon Feingold, an Israeli army spokeswoman.
But previously upbeat negotiators on the Palestinian side were more reserved Sunday, predicting up to a week more of talks. Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser said there had been "no advancement" since face-to-face talks began April 23.
A key sticking point emerged on how the Israelis would deal with the Palestinians in the church who are not on the wanted list.
Nasser said the Israeli government was insisting that each Palestinian in the church undergo interrogation. But the Palestinians are afraid that could result in additional expulsions or prison terms beyond the 10 wanted men.
"The Israelis are adamant that they interrogate each" man, Nasser said.
The Israeli military declined to discuss negotiation details.
Nasser also said he had spoken to Arafat about the possibility of arranging a deal similar to the one the Israeli Cabinet endorsed to end the siege of the Palestinian leader's compound in Ramallah.
Under that scenario, U.S. or U.N. troops would oversee the transfer of the wanted men to Gaza for trial.
According to Nasser, Arafat said, "Let's keep in touch and see what happens."
Trounson reported from Jerusalem and Miller from Bethlehem. Times staff writer James Gerstenzang in Crawford, Texas, contributed to this report.