Palestinian Leader to Meet Bush in Washington Next Week


New York Times

May 15, 2005

JERUSALEM, May 14 - The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is now scheduled to meet President Bush in Washington on May 26, after trips to China and Japan, Palestinian officials said Saturday.

Mr. Abbas held off on the visit to Washington in order to be able to demonstrate serious progress to the Americans in his efforts to reform the Palestinian security services, end violence against Israeli civilians, clean up Palestinian finances and prepare for the Israeli transfer of the Gaza Strip to full Palestinian control in late August.

The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, visited Mr. Bush in Texas last month, and complained that Mr. Abbas was making little serious effort to dismantle Palestinian terrorism, instead trying to seduce radical Islamic groups like Hamas into politics. Mr. Bush was impatient with Mr. Sharon's complaints, both Israeli and American officials said, and told him to work with Mr. Abbas.

One crucial factor in how Mr. Bush responds to Mr. Abbas will be the judgment of Lt. Gen. William Ward, assigned by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to assist the Palestinians in reforming and restructuring their security forces and to coordinate international assistance toward those efforts.

Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, say the Palestinians have not done enough.

Mr. Shalom said last week, "We insist on the end of terror and the dismantlement of its infrastructure," adding, "Without the fulfillment of these Palestinian obligations, the political process has no hope of succeeding."

But if General Ward tells Mr. Bush that Mr. Abbas is making serious efforts at security reform and battling terrorism, Mr. Bush is likely to press the Israelis to move ahead faster on prisoner releases and the handing over of more cities to Palestinian security control.

General Ward has been working quietly and has refused numerous interview requests. With his help, Mr. Abbas has named Interior Minister Nasser Youssef as chief security coordinator, at least formally reduced nearly a dozen security services to three and has replaced several commanders in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinians have negotiated a cease-fire with the Israelis and gotten Hamas and Islamic Jihad to sign on, for now, and have begun to keep their promises to the Israelis to disarm wanted men in cities handed over to Palestinian security control, Jericho, and especially Tulkarm.

The Israelis are convinced that Mr. Abbas's gamble with Hamas will prove mistaken, and are urging that he move to disarm the militants before legislative elections still scheduled for July, for fear that Hamas will win more seats than Mr. Abbas's mainstream Fatah movement and take over the Palestinian Authority.

But Mr. Abbas has said he is confident in the power of democracy, and Palestinian analysts like Daoud Kuttab believe that Hamas, its leadership weakened by Israeli assassinations, will win no more than 30 percent of the vote in the legislative elections, though it did better than that in a series of municipal votes.