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Abbas to Lobby for More Palestinian Support in Washington

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, has left for Washington, where he is to hold talks Thursday with President Bush. The Palestinians are hoping to get greater support from the administration, but are likely to be faced with a series of tough demands.

President Abbas heads for talks in Washington leaving behind militant groups that have repeatedly defied his orders to halt attacks against Israel, an increasingly confident Hamas that has done well in local elections and is flexing its muscle, and uncertainty over whether legislative elections will be held as scheduled on July 17.

Meanwhile, Israel has threatened to step up military action against Palestinian militants if their attacks do not cease. Israeli officials have continually accused Mr. Abbas of not doing enough to crack down on what they term "terrorist organizations."

Expectations are low, but the Palestinian leader's meeting with President Bush is seen as crucial. There is a widespread view that Mr. Abbas needs to show his own people that he can get more support from Washington to improve the present situation and move toward an independent Palestinian state in the near future.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat tells VOA that translates into not simply waiting for Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August, but putting pressure on Israel now to stop settlement activity and halt the construction of its controversial security barrier in and around the West Bank.

"President Abbas wants the help of President Bush in order to maintain and sustain the two-state solution by having the Israelis stop settlements and the ‘wall.’ Abu Mazen wants also to see that the Gaza disengagement is part of the Roadmap and not an alternative to it," he noted.

Mr. Erekat says it is the only way to translate President Bush's vision of a two-state solution into reality.

Bush Administration officials have said there can be no doubt about the president's commitment to the internationally backed Roadmap peace plan.

But, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said the president will remind Mr. Abbas of the Palestinian commitment to dismantle the terrorist networks. She was speaking at a meeting of AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee), a powerful pro-Israel lobby group.

Members Congress have also spoken before AIPAC calling for pressure on Mr. Abbas to dismantle militant groups. The Palestinian leader has avoided that action for fear of civil strife, preferring instead to try to entice the militants into the political fold.

Despite sporadic violence, Saeb Erekat says President Abbas has made great strides for which he is not getting enough credit.

"The man stopped the intifada, the man unified the security forces, the man continued with democracy, the man is continuing with reforms,” he added. “So, give him the credit. I mean it is good to stand in front of AIPAC conferences and slug (slam) the Palestinians and blame the Palestinians because that is the cost-free road, but does that help the peace process?"

Palestinian political analyst, Mahdi Abdelhadi of the PASIA research organization in Jerusalem says President Abbas will have to come back from Washington with something to show his constituents.

"Abu Mazen has to come back to implement elections [July 17] and he cannot do this without guarantees from Washington that he is on the right track for the two-state solution and the Road Map should be implemented now,” he said. “If he cannot accomplish it, he will resign, which means that we go back to square number one - you will not have a moderate, pragmatic, Palestinian leader to deal with."

President Abbas has not talked of resigning, but Mr. Abdelhadi says that might not be out of the question. That he says would bring any peace process to a halt and further help the rise of more militant Islamic elements, which would profit from the failure of the secular moderates.