Herb Keinon
The Jerusalem Post
October 27, 2009 - 12:00am

The US will continue pressing for a deal to get Israel and the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table, despite concerns in Jerusalem that Friday's announcement of PA elections in January makes the likelihood of starting negotiations now even more remote.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is expected back in the region by the end of the week, to continue, as one diplomatic official said, "pushing the rock."

The US, he said, has made clear that it will do so until - perhaps because of a change of conditions - the rock actually moves.

For the time being, however, there is concern in Jerusalem that the conditions for restarting negotiations have gotten worse, not better.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas, following a breakdown in his reconciliation talks with Hamas, announced on Friday that the general elections for the PA presidency and parliament would be held in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on January 24.

Over the last few weeks, there has been concern in Jerusalem that as the election process nears, it will not be a time of great "creativity" and "flexibility" on the Palestinian side. Rather, as the US tries to put together a framework for Palestinian-Israeli talks, the concern is that an Abbas playing to the Palestinian electorate will lead to a "hardening of positions."

The impact of the elections has for the last few weeks been a factor Jerusalem has taken into consideration when trying to explain the difficulty the Americans are having in putting together a framework acceptable to both sides. While Abbas only announced the elections on Friday, the likelihood of a vote has been in the air for weeks.

The Palestinians have said that there must be a complete settlement freeze before negotiations can be restarted, and - according to the Israeli account of the pre-negotiations taking place - have shown no flexibility at all on the matter, something now attributed by some in Jerusalem to domestic Palestinian electoral considerations.

Meanwhile, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior Abbas aide, denied a Channel 10 report claiming that the PA president was seriously considering resigning.

According to the report, over the past few days, Abbas sent fierce messages to the White House, threatening to step down and saying he would not participate in the next Palestinian elections, no matter when they are held.


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