- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

President Bush plans to steer more money directly to the Palestinian Authority, congressional aides and a Bush administration official said yesterday as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas began three days of meetings with White House officials and congressional leaders.

Most U.S. aid to the Palestinians has gone to private relief organizations because of concerns about corruption under Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Abbas wants aid funneled to the authority, which he leads, as a show of U.S. confidence in his leadership, said Edward Abington, a retired U.S. diplomat who advises the Palestinians.

Mr. Abbas also needs the money to provide jobs and other economic benefits to the Palestinians if he is to head off a strong challenge from the militant group Hamas in coming parliamentary elections.

Two Palestinian officials close to Mr. Abbas said yesterday that the Palestinian leader is looking to push back the July 17 vote until November, hoping to recapture some popular support.

One of the aides said they expected Mr. Bush to announce that several tens of millions of dollars would go to the authority. The aide and the others spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement has not been made.

Mr. Abbas meets with Mr. Bush at the White House today. Direct assistance to the authority is allowed only if the president waives existing law.

The move could upset some members of Congress, who say they still do not think the authority should be trusted with U.S. assistance.

Congress has provided $200 million for the Palestinians for this year, and Mr. Bush has requested an additional $150 million for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said most of that money would be channeled through the Palestinian Authority for specific projects.

In the past two years, the Palestinian Authority has received several million dollars directly from the Bush administration to pay utility bills and for other expenses.

Mr. Abbas spent most of yesterday meeting with House and Senate members and was to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney and Miss Rice in the evening.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told reporters that the Palestinian leader was warmly received by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and other Senate leaders. He said Mr. Abbas highlighted the importance of an immediate return to the “road map” peace plan, which calls for establishment of a Palestinian state, and asked Mr. Frist for economic support to boost the ailing Palestinian economy.

During his U.S. meetings, Mr. Abbas will point to a truce that he secured with militant groups and reforms he made in his government. In return, officials say, he will ask for intensified U.S. pressure on Israel to return to the negotiating table.

The internationally backed road map peace plan has been long stalled with both Israel and the Palestinians blaming each other for the deadlock. Neither side has fulfilled their obligations.

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