Ramallah's rich and politically connected have their anxiety focused on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's upcoming visit.
One of the people bustling about town was Abdel Jawad Saleh, a former Palestinian minister. "The Palestinians are like a drowning man," he said, "hanging on by a thread. And that thread is Condoleezza Rice."
Many hope that the summit might keep the Mideast from sinking into further violence. Yet they are glumly certain that Rice's summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is destined to fail.
All the parties need to notch a success when Rice arrives Monday for a series of meetings she has said will create a "political horizon" for the Palestinians.
Washington needs to avert attention from the bleeding in Iraq and staunch Iran's growing regional influence. Olmert is swamped by charges of corruption, and worse yet, ineptitude. And the Palestinians, whose economy is crippled by sanctions against the Hamas government, hope negotiations can lift the military siege around their cities and turn on the spigot of foreign donations.
Despite Washington's best efforts, Palestinians acknowledge it's not going to happen anytime soon.
Some are openly self-critical. Kadoura Fares, a leading member of the moderate Fatah party, said, "Don't expect anything big at this summit. On the other hand, it is at least good that we're meeting." He was one of the architects of the Hamas-Fatah coalition government inked last week in Mecca. The so-called Mecca agreement ended months of internal Palestinian bloodshed.
Just a block away, but miles away politically, sat Ahmed Mubarak, legislator from the radical Islamic party Hamas, munching on a candy bar. He had been released from an Israeli prison after the Israeli military rounded up Hamas ministers and parliamentarians over the summer.
His house was decorated with plastic flowers with the shades drawn tight against an elusive sun and prying eyes.
After serving tea, and offering more candy, Mubarak -- no relation to Egypt's president -- explained Hamas' position. His group, he said, will do nothing to prevent Abbas from negotiating with Israel. Any agreements he produces with Israel would be brought to a national referendum. And that's where Hamas will try to squash it.
Recent polls indicate a majority of Palestinians favor a two-state solution. But Islam prohibits surrendering any patch of land that was once ruled by Islam, or recognizing the legitimacy of any other sovereign in those lands.
So, the best Hamas is willing to offer, said Mubarak, speaking through a translator, is a full cease-fire for 10, maybe 15 years. Provided, of course, that Israel first leaves the West Bank, repatriates Palestinian refugees and coughs up the eastern part of Jerusalem.
Smoothing his tie over a substantial paunch, Mubarak said he maintained an active political life while in prison. He presided over a number of Hamas-Fatah councils, which essentially drafted earlier versions of the Saudi-mediated truce.
In a prison camp in the Israeli desert surrounded by coils of concertina wire and Israeli guard towers, everything worked smoothly between the two sides.