There has been a warm welcome at the White House for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with high praise from George W. Bush who used the opportunity to send an usually tough message to Israel. “Israel should not undertake any activity that contravenes “road map” obligations or prejudice(s) final status negotiations with regard to Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem,” he said.
The US president wants Israel to stop the expansion of West Bank settlements and any other measures that could block a final peace deal. Mahmoud Abbas is the first Palestinian president to visit Washington since peace talks collapsed in 2000.
He said he was pleased with his host’s statements of strong commitment to help the Palestinians achieve statehood and implement the “road map” peace deal. But, he warned: “Time is becoming our greatest enemy.” President Bush has pledged $50 million in aid for the Palestinians for new housing and infrastructure projects in Gaza.
The Israeli pullout there is due to begin in August. In the West Bank, Palestinians followed the summit. Some said it was a waste of time. Others were more optimistic. “I hope this meeting will be good because America, in one word, can help anybody if they are interested,” said one man who watched the two leaders’ joint news conference on television. As peace efforts continue, Mahmoud Abbas is also facing up to forthcoming parliamentary elections in which his ruling Fatah party faces a serious challenge from the militant group Hamas.