JERUSALEM (AP) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will travel to Washington for a “farewell” meeting with President George W. Bush, a Palestinian official said Friday, as impending leadership changes raise questions about the future of peace talks.
The Palestinian leader will meet Bush at the White House on Dec. 19, Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said. The two will discuss peace negotiations with Israel, he said, but “it will also be a farewell meeting between the two men.”
Bush helped launch negotiations between the sides last year with the goal of striking a peace deal by the end of 2008. But an agreement remains elusive, and talks face an unclear future as Bush leaves office and a new administration takes over.
Also leaving is Abbas’ Israeli negotiating partner, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who faces corruption charges and is set to step down after elections in February. Current Israeli polls show the favorite to replace him is Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the hardline Likud party.
Netanyahu rejects central Palestinian demands, such as allowing the establishment of a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem, and his election could mean talks would be scaled back or halted altogether.
Abbas also faces a leadership challenge. His Hamas rivals, who rule Gaza, say his term in office is up on Jan. 9. But Abbas says Palestinian law allows him to remain until early 2010, and he intends to stay.
Hamas is signaling that it will move to replace him with their own candidate after the January deadline passes. That will be another symbolic split between Hamas-controlled Gaza and the West Bank, where Abbas heads a Western-backed government.
A new poll shows most Palestinians believe Abbas’ term should not be prolonged, indicating his support could erode if he stays on.
The poll shows that 64 percent believe Abbas’ term should end now. Only 24 percent believe he has another year. The poll was released Thursday by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. Pollsters surveyed 1270 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.
According to the poll, if Palestinian elections were held now in Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas would win 28 percent of the vote while Abbas’ Fatah movement would take 42 percent.
The poll also shows 40 percent of Gazans wish to emigrate, compared to 25 percent in the West Bank.
Seventy-four percent support continuing a Gaza cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. The shaky cease-fire, which has been repeatedly violated since early November, began in June and is set to expire this month.