Abbas hopes for US boost on West Bank
SQUEEZED between the radical Hamas movement and Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas hopes US president George W Bush will come to his aid today during a summit meeting at the White House.
Mr Abbas, who received faint praise from Washington during a visit in May, will ask Mr Bush to put pressure on Israel to stop expanding settlements in the West Bank and to offer assurances that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last month will lead to a renewal of talks and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
"Our demand is that the American administration intervene so that it will not be Gaza first and Gaza last," said Hassan Abdul-Rahman, the Palestinian representative in Washington.
But Palestinian observers have low expectations of the meeting, especially given statements from Washington putting the onus for progress on the Palestinian side.
On the ground, the condition of Palestinian civilians seems to be deteriorating further, not improving in line with expectations raised by Mr Abbas's election last February.
Israel is moving ahead with plans to make permanent a ban on Palestinian use of main roads in the West Bank. And internal Palestinian security continues to deteriorate, especially in Gaza, where a raid by gunmen irate over the expulsion of friends has forced the closure of al-Azhar university.
The road ban comes after Palestinian gunmen killed three Israelis near a West Bank intersection on Tuesday, an attack that harms Mr Abbas's efforts to persuade Mr Bush that the real problem is Israel's refusal to freeze settlements and return to the negotiating table. The attack, wrote Palestinian columnist Hani Habib in the al-Ayyam newspaper, has "altered the agenda. Israeli security issues will be at the fore."
Mr Bush is expected to press Mr Abbas to begin disarming militant groups.
Hamas, which is challenging Mr Abbas's Fatah movement in January elections, is telling voters its bullets drove Israelis out of 21 Gaza settlements, while the strategy of negotiation favoured by Mr Abbas did not shift one enclave.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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