- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

For Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Thursday’s White House meeting with President Bush was a huge success in terms of atmospherics. Mr. Bush, who never invited Yasser Arafat to the White House, has concluded that Mr. Abbas genuinely wants to reach a peace agreement with Israel.

Mr. Bush praised Mr. Abbas for his commitment to democracy and said “a state of scattered territories will not work” for establishing a future Palestine. Mr. Bush also reiterated the requirement contained in the road map for Middle East peace that Israeli security forces withdraw to the positions they held on Sept. 28, 2000 — the day the second Palestinian intifada began. But Mr. Bush said that the Israeli withdrawal should not be unconditional; instead, the president said, it should occur “as we make progress toward security.” Also, Mr. Bush promised $50 million in aid to the Palestinians, with lots of strings attached — and necessarily so, because of the deep mistrust engendered by Mr. Arafat and his corrupt PA. The Palestinians will need to present a detailed plan on how it will spend the funds before any of the money is released.

Perhaps the widest difference between the two leaders comes on the issue of whether Hamas has a legitimate role to play in a future Palestinian state. Although Mr. Abbas did not defend Hamas as he stood beside Mr. Bush, he did do so in a meeting with American Jewish leaders earlier on Thursday, telling them that Hamas has become more accepting of elections. But Mr. Bush made clear Thursday that he does not share Mr. Abbas’ upbeat view of Hamas. As Mr. Bush said, “Hamas is a terrorist group. It’s on a terrorist list for a reason.”

Eventually, Mr. Abbas will be forced to choose between his relations with Hamas and his relations with Mr. Bush.

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