Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to prepare for his summit meeting with President George W. Bush later Thursday.
During the session, Abbas found himself going on the defensive regarding the chaos in the Gaza Strip following the Israeli withdrawal, as well as the continuation of terror attacks.
The Palestinian Authority should maintain law and order in the Strip to demonstrate its ability to exercise leadership, Rice told Abbas. The Palestinian leader, in turn, said that Israel’s pullout from Gaza was not sufficient and pushed for a return to the negotiations table following a five-year hiatus.
Another issue prominently discussed in the meeting was the question of Hamas participation in upcoming Palestinian elections scheduled for January 2006, an issue Israel has hotly contested. Abbas told Rice, and also Meretz-Yachad leader Yossi Beilin who is currently in Washington, that undermining the elections because of Hamas would constitute a “blow to the emerging Palestinian democracy.”
Earlier, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel would not assist the PA in holding the elections should Hamas candidates run for office. Accordingly, Abbas is now working to receive American guarantees that the elections would be held as planned.
Meanwhile, Beilin, who met with Abbas separately, stressed the importance of dismantling the Palestinian terror infrastructure. Beilin told the Palestinian leader he expects him to commit himself to disarming Hamas following the elections, saying an armed militia must not be a part of a democratic parliament.
Abbas, however, said he would not be able to act on this front before the elections, but promised an intense effort following the elections. Yet judging by past statements, it does not appear Abbas would be interested in a civil war, unless he feels his rule is in genuine danger. The Palestinian leader may also seek to find a way to integrate Hamas into the PA leadership, while calling on the terrorists to give up their weapons