RAMALLAH, West Bank - There were no bids by younger Palestinian leaders on Friday to step into the shoes of President Mahmoud Abbas, who says he does not want to run for re-election in January.
Making clear the Fatah movement is, so far, unwilling to take the 74-year-old president at his word, none of the men seen as potential successors threw his hat into the ring after Abbas's announcement on Thursday.
Israel and the United States were also careful not to take his decision as irrevocable. They rely on Abbas as their partner in the diplomatic drive for a Middle East peace treaty.
With the Palestinians so deeply divided between Fatah and the Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip, many analysts doubt there will be an election in January -- in which case Abbas may simply have to carry on representing his people in the peace process that Washington is trying to revive.
In an address to the nation, Abbas said on Thursday he had told Palestine Liberation Organization leaders I have no desire to run in the forthcoming election scheduled for January 24.
He expressed disappointment with the U.S. administration of President Barack Obama for favoring Israel in arguments over re-launching peace talks and said his decision to stand down was not a negotiating tactic to win concessions.
His departure now would throw a wrench into the shuddering machinery of a peace process that has been stuck for a year and shows now sign of advancing.
The PLO executive committee heard Abbas out but rejected his notice to leave, knowing it as yet has no credible successor in the wings.
Mohammad Shtayyeh, an aide to Abbas and a top official of the Fatah movement, said Abbas felt let down by Washington and betrayed by some Arab allies. Between now and the election date, we hope Abbas will reconsider, he said.
MODERATE AND PRAGMATIC
Israel said it was not its place to interfere but made clear it would prefer Abbas to stay on for now.
It's definitely an Israeli interest, as it is an American, Western, Palestinian one, that there be a moderate and pragmatic Palestinian leadership, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said, using a common description of Abbas's qualities.
But definitely our hands are tied and we would never intervene in the internal affairs of others, Ayalon said.
Abbas made plain his frustration with the shift in Obama's peace talks policy, from initially backing the Palestinian demand for a freeze on Israel's settlement building in the occupied West Bank to urging restraint while talks relaunch.
We were surprised by their favoring the Israeli position, he said.
President Abbas' announcement today underscores that the peace process has only two gears -- forward and reverse. There is no neutral, said Ori Nir of Americans for Peace Now. Absent progress, it is inevitable that moderates like President Abbas will lose heart.
Abbas called the January 24 presidential and parliamentary elections last month in a move rejected by his Islamist rivals Hamas, who oppose U.S.-led moves toward permanent Palestinian coexistence with the Jewish state.
On Thursday, he urged Hamas to review its destructive practices against the national project.
A Hamas spokesman said the president had failed after America and Israel used him as a tool.
Aides said privately that Abbas was unlikely to step down because of the damage it would inflict on Fatah and the PLO.
(Writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Janet Lawrence)