Ahead of Kerry visit, Palestinian officials voice pessimism on peace process

Erekat asks US secretary of state to save talks; other PLO officials complain no progress has been made in talks, and say US bias in favor of Israel "does not serve peace"; Kerry to arrive in Israel Wednesday night.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
On the eve of US Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to the region, Palestinian officials continued voicing pessimism regarding the prospects of achieving a breakthrough in the peace talks with Israel.
The Palestinian Authority's chief peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, urged the secretary of state to salvage the peace talks that both sides say are faltering.
Sixteen Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed since negotiations began in July and Palestinian officials say the sides remain far apart on the central issues of borders, security, Jerusalem's status and Palestinian refugees.
"Mr. Kerry must work to save the talks, to work to stop the deterioration of the talks caused by Israel's continuing settlement activity and crimes committed in cold blood," Erekat told Palestinian radio.
Kerry is expected to land in Israel on Wednesday evening in an attempt to breathe new life into the stalled peace talks. He will meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials in Jerusalem and Ramallah on Thursday.
Erekat and his fellow Palestinian envoy Mohammed Shtayyeh offered to resign last month after Israel announced the latest in a series of plans to build thousands of new settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
"The last negotiations meeting took place on November 5 - there have been communications with the Israeli side since then, but I couldn't call them negotiations," Erekat said.
Other Palestinian officials repeated charges that the US is biased in favor of Israel and called for the involvement of other international parties in the Middle East peace process.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi told foreign diplomats on Wednesday that “US bias in favor of Israel does not serve peace.”
Ashrawi also criticized the US for maintaining a “monopoly” over the peace process and putting pressure on the Palestinian Authority leadership “while Israel does not abide by international law and signed agreements.”
Ashrawi called for convening another Geneva conference to “end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital on the 1967 borders.” She was referring to the recent Geneva agreement between Iran and the six big powers.
Ashrawi warned that failure to take practical measures to safeguard the two-state solution would lead to the one-state option – a reality which, she added, would “plunge the entire region into violence.”
Another top PLO official, Tayseer Khaled, said that no progress has been achieved during the peace talks with Israel. The US Administration has not met any of the promises it made to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Khaled charged.
Khaled too criticized the US for failing to exert pressure on Israel, especially regarding house demolitions.
He also expressed fear that Kerry would strike a deal with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu whereby Israel would soften its criticism of the Geneva accord with Iran.
“It’s time to say enough is enough to Kerry,” the PLO official told the Palestine News Network. “US bias in favor of Israel has damaged the peace process.”
Officials from both sides have said that the American sponsors of the talks may soon present a "bridging proposal" to bring the two sides closer together, although Erekat said he doubted that would happen on Thursday.