Thursday, October 20, 2005

Abbas, Bush to meet in Washington on Thursday

From Jerusalem Post Oct. 19, 2005 22:52 Updated Oct. 20, 2005 1:26 ...

US president George Bush is likely to insist Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas bar Hamas from participating in the January Palestinian elections but would not force him to disarm the terrorist group when the two leaders meet Thursday in Washington, US sources told The Jerusalem Post.

While Abbas is focusing on demands that Israel stop all construction in the settlements and allow for freedom of travel in Gaza and the West Bank, the Americans want to talk about questions of reforms and fighting terrorism in the PA.

The main issue in dispute between the Palestinians and US is the participation of the Hamas in the political process, a stand that the US seemed reluctant to take in September when Israel first spoke out strongly against the presence of Hamas in the January elections.

'It's Hamas or us,' Prime Minister's Office spokesman Ra'anan Gissin told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, explaining that he expects Bush to tell Abbas the same thing. Israel cannot move forward on the peace process with Hamas, he added.

US sources said in recent days that the administration is not in a position to coerce Abbas into disarming Hamas before the elections, but that it will demand that the Palestinian Authority move to reform its election law, in a way that will make clear that candidates who support violence or racism, will not be able to take part in the elections. Such a provision is spelled out in the Oslo agreements and can be enacted if the Palestinian parliament adopts it.

...Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio Wednesday that Abbas' ability to disarm Hamas and prevent them from participating in the elections was critical to his survival both personally and as a leader... He warned that should Hamas succeed in the elections it would move Israel's relationship with the Palestinians back by years.

Both Shalom and Gissin insisted that acting against Hamas was not the same as interfering in the internal matters of the Palestinian Authority. "Terrorism is not an internal issue," said Gissin, adding that you cannot have a democratic party that engages in terrorism. Shalom said that Israel has long waged a campaign in the international arena, asking world leaders to add Hamas to their list of terrorist organizations.

...The Americans, according to US sources, are supportive of the Palestinian demands regarding freedom of passage in and out of the Gaza Strip and within the West Bank, and would like to see these issues resolved before the Palestinian elections.

Both Gissin and Shalom said they are supportive of the right of Palestinians for free movement but can not do so at the expense of Israel's security, particularly in light of the three Israelis killed by a Palestinian terrorist in a drive-by shooting on Sunday. Each time Israel makes a gesture, said Gissin, the response is terrorism.

Bush is expected to reject a request from Abbas that he take issue with Israeli settlement activity.

...On Wednesday, Shalom said that ...a meeting between Sharon and Abbas should only be held when it could yield results, something that is unlikely to happen at this stage.

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