Chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat warned on Wednesday that the Palestinians would not "rule out other options" if the peace process failed.
Erekat's threat was echoed earlier this week by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and other senior officials in Ramallah, in response to statements made by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday, in which she rejected the Palestinians' demand for a full cessation of settlement construction as a precondition for the resumption of peace talks with Israel.
Erekat explained that one of the "other options" that the Palestinians would consider was abandoning the two-state solution in favor of one state for all Jews and Arabs.
"Successive Israeli governments have destroyed any chance of reaching a two-state solution," he charged. "The Palestinian Authority must start searching for other options. A Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital would be meaningless. The Palestinian people haven't excluded other options, including the option of a one-state solution," Erekat said.
In Egypt, Clinton told reporters at a joint press conference with that country's Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit that the US was disappointed that a peace deal had not been reached on past parameters, which placed the capital of a future Palestinian state in east Jerusalem.
"We would not be having this discussion if we had reached a deal, because as you remember, the parameters that were laid out would have recognized a state on the '67 borders with some swapping of land agreeable to both sides. It would have also established the capital for the Palestinian state in east Jerusalem, and it would have created a shared responsibility with international support to protect the holy places that are holy to all three major religions of Abraham," Clinton told reporters.
The Prime Minister's Office had no reaction to her remarks on east Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that Israel wanted to resume talks with the Palestinians as soon as possible.
The possibility that Palestinian elections might be held soon was causing a polarization of Palestinian Authority positions regarding Israel and was hindering the opening of negotiations, he added.
But Erekat said that it was Israel's continued settlement construction that was obstructing the peace process. Both sides talked under former prime minister Ehud Olmert's government, but talks have not been held since Netanyahu came into office in March 2009.
In an interview with National Public Radio on on Wednesday, Clinton said the Palestinian Authority's initial decision to postpone action on the Goldstone Report had made it difficult for Abbas to talk now with the Israelis.
"I think his [Abbas] getting into negotiations would actually change the dynamic and give him a very strong platform. But for all kinds of reasons, most particularly his willingness to work with the Israeli government to postpone the so-called Goldstone Report, has made it very difficult for him to go forward at this time," Clinton said.
But Erekat stressed that the PA leadership would not accept any compromise that did not call for a full cessation of settlement construction not only in the West Bank, but in east Jerusalem as well.
"The situation is very grave," Erekat told reporters in Ramallah. "The entire peace process is at a crossroads. The Palestinians won't rule out other options," he said.
Erekat's remarks reflected deep disappointment among the PA leadership with what it views as a "change" in US policy toward the issue of settlements. The Palestinians argue that the US administration has abandoned its previous demand that Israel freeze all construction work in the settlements to pave the way for the resumption of peace talks.
Netanyahu and the US have called for the resumption of talks without preconditions.
Erekat reaffirmed the PA's strong opposition to the resumption of the peace talks before Israel halted all construction work in the settlements. He said that US "clarifications" regarding Clinton's recent statements were insufficient and called on Washington to hold Israel publicly responsible for hindering the peace process by failing to meet its obligations under the terms of the Road Map plan.
In Egypt, Clinton continued to clarify that her remarks praising Netanyahu for his decision to place a moratorium on new settlement construction did not constitute a change in US policy and that the US still wanted Israel to halt ongoing settlement construction. Israel has said it plans to continue work on the 3,000 homes in West Bank settlements that are now under construction.
"I want to start by saying our policy on settlements has not changed. And I want to say it again, our policy on settlement activity has not changed. We do not accept the legitimacy of settlement activity," she said.
Still, she praised Israel for its efforts to curb settlement construction, and repeated that it was an unprecedented step.
"It is not what we would prefer, because we would like to see everything ended forever. But it is something that I think shows at least a positive movement toward the final status issues being addressed."
Later in the day she told NPR she was not surprised by the furor her Jerusalem remarks had caused.
"I'm not surprised by anything, because this is the tightrope of all tightropes, and I'm well aware of that. ...Settlements have never been a precondition by anyone - Palestinian or Arab or the United States - to getting into negotiations," Clinton said.
When those talks were resumed, she said, "Everything, from borders to Jerusalem to refugees, has to be resolved between the parties."
Erekat said that when and if the talks resumed, they should pick up where they left off with the Olmert government.
"We are talking about resuming final status negotiations," he said. "On the other hand, Israel is talking about beginning the final status talks. The Americans, for their part, are talking about re-launching the final status talks."
The Palestinians would not accept any proposal calling for the establishment of a state with temporary borders, Erekat said. He also said that Palestinians reject the idea of resuming negotiations with the sole purpose of negotiating.
Erekat said he did not understand how the US would be able to fulfill its commitment to establishing a Palestinian state within two years if it couldn't even force Israel to stop construction and natural growth in the settlements and east Jerusalem.
"The negotiations [with Israel] did not start this year," Erekat said. "In fact, the negotiations reached an advanced stage in December 2008 between President Abbas and Olmert. Therefore we are demanding that the negotiations be resumed from where they were halted in December 2008."
The PA official dismissed Israel's claim that the settlement freeze was a new Palestinian demand and noted that this was one of the requirements of the Road Map.