RAMALLAH, West Bank – As U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry began his latest trip to the Mideast, Palestinian officials Sunday criticized what they said was a lack of seriousness by the United States in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.
The Palestinian criticism came in light of Israeli decisions to build thousands of housing units in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and days before Kerry is expected to hold talks here with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Kerry spent much of Sunday in Cairo before flying to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a close aide to Abbas, said on official Palestinian TV that the Palestinians are worried that all that Kerry is going to do during his visit is to pressure the Palestinians to continue to sit at the negotiating table without demanding anything in return from Israel.
"The worst thing that could happen when Kerry visits us is that he would tell us 'swallow what happened and continue at the negotiations table and I promise you to put forward something in the coming months,'" said Abed Rabbo.
"We are the ones sitting at the negotiations table but it is Netanyahu who is not there because he is busy deciding the future of these talks outside the table," added the Palestinian official. "The negotiations are not the place where Netanyahu wants to decide the borders. He wants to decide on this unilaterally."
The Israeli government announced that it was offering tenders for the construction of more than 1,800 new housing units in East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements.
Abed Rabbo said negotiations have become useless because of the Israeli policies.
"You either stop this farce and we go to negotiations without any one party deciding their future," said Abed Rabbo, addressing himself to Kerry, "or we will go to the Security Council, not to condemn Israel but to demand from it better guarantees than what we have today. We will tell them there are no negotiations." He added: "We are disappointed by the American role."
Silvan Shalom, Israel's water and energy minister, said in a radio interview that the Palestinians should have known going into the negotiations that Israel would not freeze settlement construction.