Rice Drops Plan for Jordan Peace Summit Due to PA Turmoil

Trip meant to renew Israeli-Palestinian talks canceled due to failure to establish Palestinian unity gov't.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had wanted to use her trip to Jordan next week to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian talks, but the idea was shelved due to the Palestinians' ongoing failure to establish a unity government, Israeli government sources said.

Earlier this week, U.S. President George W. Bush unexpectedly announced he would be joining Rice on her Jordan trip, which was scheduled to coincide with a conference that King Abdullah of Jordan is hosting.

Bush is coming mainly to reassure a key American ally in the region that the United States will not execute a hasty withdrawal from Iraq in response to the Republican defeat in the American midterm elections earlier this month.

But Rice's visit was planned some time ago, and she originally considered inviting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to join her in Jordan for a three-way meeting.

About two weeks ago, however, after putting out feelers to both sides, she concluded that there would be no point to such a meeting.

According to the Israeli sources, this was mainly due to Abbas' failure to form a new government of technocrats to replace the existing Hamas government, with which the U.S. refuses to speak.

Another problem was that Abbas has conditioned any meeting with Olmert on a release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, whereas Olmert has conditioned a prisoner release on the return of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped to Gaza in June.

Under these circumstances, the Americans feared that a three-way summit would not achieve anything, and a fruitless summit would merely do further damage to the Bush Administration's reputation.

According to the Israeli sources, Rice dropped the summit idea even before Bush decided to go to Jordan, and the decision was not connected to Bush's visit.

Rice will not pop over to Israel during her Jordan trip, but another White House envoy, Elliott Abrams, who is also attending the Jordan conference, will visit Jerusalem next Tuesday.

Though the summit idea was scratched, Olmert and Abbas are conducting talks via their aides, and Israeli sources said the atmosphere at these sessions has been good.

The main reason why they have produced no progress, the sources said, is the lack of an agreement between Abbas and Hamas on a new government that would pave the way for resuming diplomatic negotiations.