Image: A Palestinian holds up an Egyptian flag
Nasser Shiyoukhi  /  AP
A Palestinian holds up an Egyptian flag during a demonstration in support of the Egyptian people, outside the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by many Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, on Sunday.
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updated 2/13/2011 4:50:32 PM ET 2011-02-13T21:50:32

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's downfall appears to have nudged Israel and the Palestinians toward some common ground: Neither side seems to think now is the time for brave moves toward peace.

For Israel, Mubarak's departure has left behind an all-consuming worry that the influence of Islamic extremists will grow, and the two countries' historic 1979 peace treaty could be in jeopardy. For the Western-backed Palestinian leadership, the fall of Egypt's strongman deprives them of a key mediator with the Israelis and — just as crucially — with their Palestinian rivals in the militant Islamic Hamas movement.

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Both sides are now waiting to see what kind of Egyptian government emerges in Mubarak's wake. It's one more distraction preventing Israelis and Palestinians from reviving a U.S.-backed peace push that ground to halt only weeks after it started last year.

The Palestinians were already reeling from last month's leaks to Al-Jazeera TV disclosing that they had offered deep concessions to Israel in past peace talks. The revelations triggered public outrage. Hoping to diffuse the anger on the street, the Palestinians are now focused on moving ahead with long-delayed elections.

One Palestinian official said that with both sides preoccupied and disillusioned it was once again up to America to push for peace.

"When it comes to the Palestinian people, this is a test for the Americans," said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the top Palestinian decision-making body, the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee. "They must understand it's a critical issue."

She said that just as President Barack Obama ultimately sided with the Egyptian protesters who brought down Mubarak, he should change what is viewed by the Palestinians as an unfair pro-Israel bias.

In a step to prepare for fall elections called in response to the Egypt turmoil, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his Cabinet plan to resign Monday, a Palestinian official said. Fayyad will form a new Cabinet with more officials from President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party, he said, to give them a boost against Hamas rivals, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no announcement was made.

Obama made Mideast peace a top priority upon taking office two years ago, believing that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would remove a major source of tension in the region. He personally presided over the relaunch of peace talks at the White House last September, pledging to forge an agreement within one year.

Palestinian officials claim that even with the Middle East in turmoil, Israeli settlement construction remains the top obstacle to peace.

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"Any negotiations with Israel now, while the settlement-building continues, will be a political delusion," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

But the U.S.'s inability to coax Israel into a settlement freeze is just one of the issues dogging peace efforts.

The Palestinians are still recovering from last month's leak of dozens of sensitive negotiating documents to the Al-Jazeera satellite channel, and the Egyptian unrest continues to ripple throughout the region.

The Al-Jazeera documents, which showed that Abbas and other top officials were amenable to key concessions to Israel during failed peace talks in 2008, deeply embarrassed the Palestinian leader and over the weekend compelled his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, to resign.

Analysts say Abbas, seen as weak by the Palestinian public, would have a hard time presenting the resumption of negotiations to his people in the current environment.

On Saturday, pushed by both the Al-Jazeera leaks and the events in Egypt, Abbas' government said it would hold long overdue general elections by September.

Abbas has repeatedly delayed elections, both due to fears that his Fatah Party would lose, and because of the geographical split in Palestinian society.

Abbas governs from the West Bank while the rival Hamas militant group rules the Gaza Strip, having taken it over by force in 2007. The Palestinians hope to turn both territories — located on opposite sides of Israel — into a state. Elections could conceivably provide a way for the rivals to reconcile, though Hamas has said it will boycott the vote.

In the absence of peace talks, Abed Rabbo said the Palestinians would spend the coming months preparing for the elections, pursuing reconciliation and trying to rally international support for Palestinian independence at the United Nations. They have set September as an informal target date for declaring statehood, with or without a peace deal.

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For Israel, the reluctance to resume talks is far more straightforward.

Mubarak's downfall has robbed Israel of a key ally and raised concerns that the radical Muslim Brotherhood could play a role in a future Egyptian government. The Egyptian army's pledge on Saturday to preserve a bedrock peace treaty with Israel helped ease fears, but jitters remain.

At a time of such great uncertainty, Israeli officials are highly reluctant to turn over full control of territory on their doorstep to Abbas, a man they view as well-intentioned but weak.

Just as Abbas' forces lost control of Gaza to Hamas, they fear the same thing could happen in the West Bank — a scenario that would put a hostile group just a few miles from the country's largest cities.

"In our pursuit of peace, we have to ensure that there are rock-solid security arrangements, both to protect the peace ... but also to reflect the fact that reality can change tomorrow," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in a speech last week.

Some, however, took the view that in the long run, the changes under way in the region could boost prospects for peace.

"The good thing could be that we see more democratic regimes here, and a democratic regime is more stable and more likely perhaps to conclude peace agreements," said Eytan Gilboa, an analyst at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.

___

Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Exiled: Images of global tyranny

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  1. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran Exile: Egypt, dead

    A reformer installed by Allied forces wary of his predeccessor’s ties to Germany, the shah, shown in 1939 with his fiancee, Princess Fawzia of Egypt, was a close ally of the West throughout his years in power. Buoyed by oil wealth, he exercised absolute authority in the country, employing a secret police to suppress dissenters and holding lavish ceremonies to celebrate the monarchy. After several protesting students were killed by army forces, resistance to the Shah’s regime swelled, culminating in the return of Ayatollah Khomeini. Early in 1979, the shah fled Iran. He died in Egypt in 1980 at the age of 60. (Fox Photos / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Anastasio Somoza Debayle of Nicaragua Exile: Paraguay, dead

    The son of Nicaraguan president Anastasio Somoza Garcia, Somoza Debayle was the acting commander of the National Guard before his father was assassinated. He became president in 1967 and brutally fended off assaults by the Marxist Sandinista National Liberation Front. After a hostage standoff with the guerrillas, Somoza Debayle, shown in 1978, instituted a state of siege, souring relations with the United States. As the country spiraled into revolution in 1979 , he took refuge in Paraguay, where he was assassinated in September 1980. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Idi Amin of Uganda Exile: Saudi Arabia, dead

    Amin, a military leader who overthrew Uganda’s president in 1966, is thought to have been responsible for as many as 400,000 deaths during his eight-year reign. An eccentric and callous dictator, he reportedly engaged in cannibalism, and he demanded to be called “Big Daddy.” The U.S. stopped the flow of aid to Uganda in 1972; a few years later, Amin, shown in 1975, allegedly collaborated with Palestinian hijackers who held Israeli airline passengers hostage in an attack. He was ousted by Tanzanian forces and Ugandan exiles in 1979. He died in Saudi Arabia in 2003. (Sigurd Bo Bojesen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Jean-Claude Duvalier of Haiti Exile: Haiti, alive

    Known as “Baby Doc,” the Haitian dictator has recently been charged with corruption and embezzlement stemming from his 15-year rule. Tens of thousands of Haitians are thought to have been executed during the 30-year period when he and his father, “Papa Doc” Duvalier, ruled the desperately poor nation. Despite his brutal regime –implemented with the aid of a private police force -- his opposition to communism generally won him the backing of the United States until the Reagan administration pressured him to step down in the mid-1980s. He lived in exile in France for almost a quarter-century before a stunning return to his homeland after the earthquake that rocked it last year. (Bachrach / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines Exile: Honolulu, dead

    Marcos, an authoritarian ruler who presided over almost a decade of martial law in the Philippines, jailed his political opponents and suspended habeas corpus during the 1970s. As an early defender of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, he enjoyed the backing of the U.S. government for much of his presidency until the Reagan administration rolled back its support. After his re-election in February 1986, his supporters were accused of massive voter fraud, and Marcos, shown announcing a state of siege in February 1986, fled his homeland. He was indicted by the U.S. government on racketeering charges, but he died in exile in Honolulu in 1989 at the age of 72 before the case came to trial. (Toledo / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Alfredo Sroessner of Paraguay Exile: Brazil, dead

    Sroessner – who dubbed himself “El Excelentisimo” – ruled Paraguay for more than three decades after he came to power in a 1954 coup. A government characterized by corruption and payoffs made the country a safe haven for arms dealers and smugglers, and dissidents were frequently tortured. Stroessner, shown in 1955, was an anti-Communist who supported U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and his brutal policies went largely unchecked by American officials who only occasionally spoke out against his tactics. He was ousted in a bloody military coup in 1989 while he was recovering from surgery; he died in Brasilia in 2006 at the age of 93. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Erich Honecker of East Germany Exile: Santiago, Chile, dead

    Honecker oversaw the building of the Berlin Wall before coming to power as the leader of East Germany in 1971. Citing health problems but also losing support from the Soviet Union in the years of glasnost, the Communist leader stepped down after 18 years in power amid massive protests against his administration. After the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, he was arrested on charges of treason and manslaughter; the trial was never completed, and Honecker, shown leaving the Chilean Embassy in Moscow in 1992, fled to Chile, where he died in 1994 at the age of 81. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Hissen Habre of Chad Exile: Senegal, alive

    Habre was supported by the United States and France in driving Libyan forces out of the disputed Aozou territory in the 1980s. During his eight years in power, Habre, shown in 1986, stifled opposition from ethnic groups; political prisoners held in his police force’s detention centers were allegedly tortured with electric shocks, starvation and burns. Habre was forced from power in 1990. His government is accused of carrying out tens of thousands of politically motivated killings. He lives in exile in Senegal. (Dominique Faget / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia Exile: Zimbabwe, alive

    After helping to overthrow the Ethiopian monarchy, Mengistu, shown in 1977, was responsible for the deaths of thousands of intellectuals and professionals during the “Red Terror” years in the 1970s. He attempted to mold the country into a communist state in the style of the Soviet Union, which gave billions of dollars in military aid to Ethiopia in the 1980s. He fled to Zimbabwe after his regime was overthrown in 1991. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Raoul Cedras of Haiti Exile: Panama, alive

    Army chief Gen. Raoul Cedras served as the de facto ruler of Haiti in the early 1990s after leading a coup to overthrow President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Under pressure from the United States, which was poised to invade the country if he did not step down and allow Aristide to return to power, Cedras resigned in 1993 in exchange for amnesty for himself and his family. Cedras, shown in 1993, lives in exile in Panama. (Mark Philips / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo Exile: Morocco, dead

    A dictator known for his trademark leopard-skin hat, Mobutu ran a regime so corrupt that it gave rise to the term “kleptocracy.” His personal wealth has been estimated at as much as $5 billion. Like other anti-communist despots of the time, he benefitted from American backing because he was seen as a key ally against Cold War enemies. But Western leaders largely dropped their support for him after he ordered a massacre of students, and he was eventually driven from power in 1997 after a militia backed by neighboring Rwanda trounced government forces. He died in exile in Morocco in September 1997 at the age of 66. (COR / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Charles Taylor of Liberia Exile: Nigeria, alive

    Taylor was elected president of Liberia in 1997 after leading a guerrilla force that toppled the regime of President Samuel Doe. During his rule, he reportedly sold weapons and supplies to rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds. Under pressure to step down by the Bush administration, Taylor, shown in 1990, resigned in 2003 and flew to Nigeria. He is on trial in The Hague, Netherlands, on war crimes charges linked to his backing of the insurgents in Sierra Leone. (Francois Rojon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia Exile: Saudi Arabia, alive

    Ben Ali came to power in November 1987, six weeks after becoming prime minister, when he arranged for president-for-life Habib Bourguiba to be declared senile. He was credited with ensuring political stability, and his portrait adorned practically every shop and public building in Tunisia. But Tunisians chafed under his iron-fisted rule, and soaring unemployment and corruption fueled tension that came to a head in December 2010 when an unlicensed street vendor set himself on fire to protest against the police, who had stopped him from trading. The protests that began after his death spread to other towns and eventually the capital, and Ben Ali was forced to flee on Jan. 14. It was unclear whether Saudi Arabia would allow him to stay. (Fethi Belaid / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt Exile: Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, alive

    Mubarak came to power in 1981 after President Anwar Sadat was assassinated. He was a staunch ally of the U.S., which over the years gave Egypt’s military billions of dollars in aid. But Mubarak’s autocratic rule was marked by widespread repression and poverty, and the nation’s security forces were accused of torture. Inspired in part by the overthrow of the Tunisian government, tens of thousands of Egyptians staged protests demanding Mubarak’s ouster and democratic elections. After 18 days of mostly peaceful demonstrations, Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11, 2011, and fled to the Egyptian luxury resort of Sharm el Sheikh. He vowed that he would not be forced into exile outside of the country, saying he would die on Egyptian soil. (Khaled Elfiqi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Shah Of Iran
    Fox Photos / Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (14) Exiled: Images of global tyranny
  2. Image: Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo
    Dylan Martinez / Reuters
    Slideshow (18) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Farewell Friday
  3. Image: Protester in Tahrir Square
    Emilio Morenatti / AP
    Slideshow (61) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 3
  4. Image: Egyptian anti-Mubarak protesters
    Amr Nabil / AP
    Slideshow (93) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 2
  5. Image: Mohamed ElBaradei
    Khalil Hamra / AP
    Slideshow (83) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 1
  6. Image:
    Mayra Beltran / AP
    Slideshow (17) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - World reacts

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