MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
This evening, President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. Their meeting came in the midst of what both Israelis and Palestinians are calling a crisis.
Last week, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said he does not want to run for re-election because of his despair over the peace process.
As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, that announcement has touched off a flurry of concern in the West Bank capital of Ramallah.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: This week, Palestinians are marking the fifth anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death. And many in the occupied West Bank say it's the bleakest period since his demise. Rabiha Diab is the minister of women's affairs in the Palestinian Cabinet.
Ms. RABIHA DIAB (Minister of Women's Affairs, Palestinian Cabinet): (Through Translator) The Israelis always said that Arafat was not a partner for peace. Then Abbas came and tried to implement all of the Palestinian commitments. But Israel is trying to kill Abbas' project.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Behind the familiar rhetoric of blame, there's a real sense of hopelessness among Palestinians who say Abbas' announcement was the act of a desperate man. Abbas had been banking on an Israeli agreement to freeze Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank. The Palestinian leader said that without that, there could be no resumption of peace talks.
The Obama administration at first seemed to back the Palestinian position, with Special Envoy George Mitchell pressing Israel to agree to a complete settlement freeze. But Prime Minister Netanyahu's government would only agree to a temporary and partial freeze. Then, on a visit to Jerusalem, Secretary of State Clinton appeared to signal a change in the U.S. position, praising the Israeli offer as unprecedented.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Rabiha Diab said that was the final straw for President Abbas, whose decision not to seek re-election was announced just days later.
Ms. DIAB: (Through Translator) We were not surprised to see what happened. We understood the meaning of the step. I think Abbas is a bold and courageous person. He wanted to send a message to the Israelis, the Arabs and others, but most importantly to the Americans who had created optimism in the heart of the Palestinians.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, what next if the elections go off as planned on January 24th? And that is far from certain. Palestinian insiders say there is no clearcut successor in sight.
Abdel Nasser Najjar is the editor of the Fatah-affiliated Al-Ayyam newspaper.
Mr. ABDEL NASSER NAJJAR (Editor, Al-Ayyam): (Through Translator) Abbas represented moderation in Palestinian society despite all the criticism against him. Abbas engaged in negotiations from the start of his presidency. So, how can the Palestinians elect someone else who talks about negotiations when negotiations have failed to get started? The option of negotiation goes with Abbas. Therefore, the people will elect someone who will give them another option.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says that may mean voting for a candidate from more radical groups like the Islamist militants of Hamas who rule in the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian political chaos hasn't helped the Israelis either. According to Israeli media reports, U.S. officials delayed setting a date for Prime Minister Netanyahu's meeting with President Obama until the Israeli leader was already on his way to Washington.
Monday's headline in the Haaretz newspaper called it a semi-snub. The article went on to say it makes Netanyahu look as if Obama threw him a bone. The prime minister of Israel was humiliated before all.
Yaron Ezrahi is an Israeli political analyst. He says Israel's increasing diplomatic isolation - it's had recent problems with Turkey, Egypt and Spain -will only increase if there's no movement on the peace process.
Professor YARON EZRAHI (Political Analyst): As long as we dont create the borders between us and the Palestinians, without the Palestinians having a piece of their land under the sun in which they can govern themselves, I think we are prescribing for ourselves a future of endless bloodshed.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.