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The US administration has put on hold a planned trip by two senior administration officials to discuss ways to assist in the upcoming election for the Palestinian parliament.
Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch were due to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority to try to work out a solution for the participation of east Jerusalem Palestinians election. The administration did not set a new date for the visit, but has stressed in the past week that it would not view positively any delay in the Palestinian elections.
Diplomatic sources in Washington said Thursday that the US was interested in seeing the elections take place on time and that the illness of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would not be seen by the administration as a reason for postponing the democratic process.
In Washington, the Israeli Embassy kept American officials updated on Sharon's condition all Wednesday night. Ambassador Danny Ayalon was on the phone with administration officials and members of congress while Sharon was undergoing surgery and informed them about his situation as well as on the political situation in Israel and the appointment of Ehud Olmert to serve as acting prime minister.
Sharon's aide and personal friend Dov Weisglass phoned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the early hours of the operation and updated her on Sharon's condition.
Olmert is a well-known figure in Washington and is considered to be a close ally of Sharon and one of the architects of the disengagement plan. Last summer, weeks before the implementation of the withdrawal, Olmert held a lengthy meeting in Washington with Rice in which he provided a detailed explanation of Israel's planned moves. Olmert also has a good relationship with Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who served as the US trade representative when Olmert was minister of industry and trade.
But Olmert, as acting prime minister, will find it hard to follow Sharon's act. Sharon built a close relationship with President George W. Bush in the past five years. Sharon has stressed many times in the past the importance he sees in maintaining good relations with the US, and Bush has praised Sharon frequently both for his steadfast stand on fighting terror and his moves towards peace in the region. Bush also mentions frequently, mainly when speaking to Jewish audiences, the helicopter ride he had with Sharon while serving as governor of Texas. Bush visited Israel with several other governors and was taken by Sharon on a flight over Israel to get a first-hand impression of the country's strategic difficulties.
Though the administration has never voiced any preference concerning the Israeli elections slated for March, officials have spoken positively about Sharon and praised his leadership in the Middle East.
Olmert also has good relations with the American Jewish community and he is a frequent speaker at events of the major Jewish organizations.