Palestinian officials in Ramallah have lately been competing against each other over the release of statements regarding the secret peace talks with Israel.

All these statements have one theme in common: holding Israel responsible for the expected failure of the US-sponsored talks.

In briefings to Palestinian journalists, some of the officials have gone as far as threatening to pull out of the talks in protest against continued construction in the settlements.

Such statements and threats have accompanied the talks ever since they resumed several weeks ago.

PLO, Fatah and Palestinian Authority officials have described the talks as “futile,” “unproductive,” “a waste of time” and “a cover for Israel to pursue its policy of creating new facts on the ground.”

The officials who have been talking about the peace talks include the chief PLO negotiator, Saeb Erekat, PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo, PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yusef and Fatah Central Committee member Nabil Sha’ath.

Others have also been briefing reporters “on condition of anonymity” — in violation of understandings reached with the Americans, according to which Israel and the Palestinians would refrain from talking about the peace negotiations.

There are a number of reasons behind the Palestinians’ increased talk about the negotiations.

First, the Palestinian statements and threats are aimed at prompting the US Administration to exert pressure on Israel to comply with the Palestinian Authority’s demands, including halting all settlement construction and the participation of a US representative in the negotiations.

The Palestinians hope that the presence of a US envoy at the negotiating table with Israel would help put pressure on the Israeli government to soften its position on a number of issues, including the settlements.

The Palestinians are disappointed that US envoy Martin Indyk has attended only one out of five sessions of talks with Israel.

Second, the Palestinian statements and threats to withdraw from the talks are directed toward the Palestinian public, which has not been quite supportive of the Palestinian Authority leadership’s decision to resume the talks with Israel. The Palestinian remarks are designed to assure the Palestinian public that their negotiators have no intention to make “unacceptable” concessions to Israel.

Third, the Palestinian officials’ comments about Israeli “intransigence” and “arrogance” are aimed at paving the way for holding Israel fully responsible for the failure of the peace talks. The message that the Palestinian officials are trying to send out to their own people and the international community is that the Israeli government, contrary to its public stance, is not interested in peace.

By sounding the alarm bell already, the Palestinians are hoping that when the talks fail they will be able to tell the world, “You see, we told you from the beginning that these Israelis do not want peace.”

But these statements and threats have also proven to be counter-productive. The more Palestinian officials and leaders talk about the “futility” and “ineffectiveness” of the peace talks, the bigger the opposition grows to the negotiations with Israel.

Of course there is also the possibility that this type of anti-Israel rhetoric could spark another round of violence between the two sides.

No wonder, then, that Palestinians have been holding weekly demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip against the same peace talks that are being ridiculed and dismissed by none other than their leaders and negotiators. Why should any Palestinians be in favor of the peace talks when their leaders are declaring, almost on a daily basis, that the negotiations with Israel are just a waste of time?

Ironically, while the Palestinian officials are inciting their people against the peace talks, they are also deploying riot police to break up demonstrations opposed to the negotiations. This happened on a number of occasions over the past few weeks in Ramallah and other Palestinian cities.

Last week, five Palestinians were injured during a violent encounter with policemen outside the Ramallah headquarters of Mahmoud Abbas.

Asked why the Palestinians are not making good their threat to walk out of the “unproductive” talks, a senior Palestinian official explained: “We cannot pull out at this stage because of American and European pressure. We will continue with the talks for six to nine months in order to show the world in the end that Israel is not interested in peace.”

For now, the Palestinian Authority’s strategy is to continue talking while at the same time blaming Israel for the lack of progress.

Palestinian officials are hoping that by the time the talks fail, the world would have absorbed their message: namely, that the Israelis are not interested in peace. The Palestinian Authority’s next step would be to seek international intervention and pressure to force Israel to accept all its demands, including a full withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.