Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has replaced Ariel Sharon as the Kadima Party's prime ministerial candidate, is to visit Washington in February, just a month before Israel's national elections. Visits of this type invariably add to the invitee's stature in the perception of Israel's domestic public, and this will therefore help Olmert as the elections approach.

Olmert is also expected to become Israel's Prime Minister in the coming days, when Attorney General Menachem Mazuz declares that Sharon has become permanently incapacitated.

In addition, the U.S. has informed the PA and Arab countries that Olmert's stature must be strengthened as the elections approach in order that he "continue the process that Sharon started." So reports the PA's Arabic-language Al-Manar newspaper.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice issued a statement last night, commending Olmert on his apparent decision to permit eastern Jerusalem Arabs to participate in the PA elections later this month.

Most reports do not note that the Israeli decision stipulates that Hamas ballots will not be allowed into the Jerusalem post offices in which the voting will take place. Olmert informed Rice of this on Tuesday. In any event, the Israeli decision must be finalized at Sunday's Cabinet meeting.

Rice, in her statement praising Olmert's decision, stated the United States' view that there is no place in the political process for groups or individuals who espouse violence and reject Israel’s right to exist. “To participate in a peace process of Israelis and Palestinians," she said, " the Palestinian partner must at least accept Israel's right to exist. To implement agreements on movement and access for the Palestinian territories, the Palestinian partner must be committed to preventing violence."

The Al-Manar newspaper reported that the U.S. is conducting secret contacts with the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries in an effort to have them help strengthen Olmert's stature. The U.S. informed them that it is interested in having Olmert head Kadima and "continue the process that Sharon began to solve the Palestinian-Israel conflict." The paper further reports that the Americans feel that Olmert is a "smart leader who will be able, with his advisors, to lead the peace process and rebuff the political machinations against him."

The U.S. even informed Olmert, according to the paper, that it would like him to keep Sharon's advisors on his team, especially Dov Weisglass and Shimon Peres.