Rice accompanied US President George W. Bush to Jordan, decided to visit Israel following the announcement of a ceasefire, which began Sunday morning. The senior US official will seek to promote direct negotiations between Israel and the PA (Palestinian Authority), signaling America at this juncture is not planning to become involved in any talks that may evolve.

In addition to the high-level talks in Jerusalem, Rice will travel to PA-controlled Jericho where she will meet with Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), hoping to bring the sides closer to returning to a diplomatic process – seeking to launch direct talks between the sides.

Key issues surrounding possible talks include the release of IDF soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit, who is being held by Hamas terrorists since he was taken captive on June 25th.

During a meeting held in Jerusalem on Wednesday between Olmert and visiting Egyptian Chief of Intelligence General Omar Suleiman, Mr. Olmert emerged “encouraged” and Suleiman expressed confidence that the ceasefire with the PA will continue. They hinted at ongoing efforts towards Shalit’s release, which are apparently hung up on the dispute regarding the number of prisoners to be released and the timing for such a move.

Another major issue surrounds the formation of a coalition government between the now-ruling Hamas Party and Abbas’ Fatah Party, but according to reports from the PA earlier in the week, such a reality is most unlikely as talks collapsed “for a final time” PA media reported earlier in the week.

The formation of such a unity government would give Hamas the legitimacy it needs to gain the acceptance of the international community, a move that would result in the lifting of the economic boycott that began with the rise of the current Hamas administration to power.

Hamas must also denounce terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist, a move Hamas officials have signaled will never occur.

Alternatively, PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah recently began visiting with leaders of Arab states in the hope of finding funding to fill the void created by the Western community’s economic boycott of PA institutions.

Abu Mazen will tell Rice the PA wants the current ceasefire with Israel extended to all of Judea and Samaria, a move that would compel a withdrawal of IDF forces from those areas, bringing a halt to daily counter-terror efforts.

The PA will also express concerns regarding border crossing closures, seeking assurances that the crossings remain open to avoid interruptions in the day-to-day lives of PA residents. Abbas will also be sent to Israel to remove most roadblocks now operating in Judea and Samaria in the hope of easing restrictions on PA residents.

Olmert appears interested in moving forward with his latest political initiative despite warnings from intelligence community officials and senior IDF commanders. They have stated the ceasefire in Gaza is serving terrorists, who are using the hiatus in fighting to restock and prepare for the next round of warfare and stepped-up Kassam rocket attacks against Israeli civilian population centers on Gaza’s northern border.