WASHINGTON (AFP)-US President George W. Bush was expected to push Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas when they meet Thursday to do more to halt anti-Israel violence, battle corruption and build the Palestinian economy.
Bush has seized on Israel”s withdrawal from Gaza to step up call on the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors to do their utmost to quell extremist attacks on Israel — but the White House says they have fallen short.
"There is more that the Palestinian leadership can do to end violence and dismantle terrorist organizations," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday on being asked whether Abbas was doing all he could on that front.
The US president, who backs creating a Palestinian state living at peace with Israel, was also set to use his second meeting with Abbas in five months to offer Washington”s help to bolster security and economic growth.
McClellan said Bush would "talk about ways we can continue to support the Palestinian leadership as they move forward on holding elections" as well as keep order in Gaza and promote Palestinian economic well-being.
Bush and former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn, the special Gaza envoy of the international "quartet" of countries promoting Middle East peace, met Tuesday to discuss "reviving the Palestinian economy," McClellan said.
The two discussed the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt — the only exit from Gaza into a foreign country apart from Israel, made critical by the absence of a functioning airport or seaport in Gaza.
The Rafah terminal was closed on September 7, ahead of the pullout five days later of Israeli troops who had manned the border. It has temporarily reopened on two other occasions since, but a long-term solution to the question of access in and out of Gaza has yet to be resolved.
The talks with Abbas — who in May became the first Palestinian leader welcomed to Bush”s White House — came after Israel cut ties with the Palestinians in response to the killing of three Jewish settlers.
In the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon”s controversial and historic decision to withdraw from Gaza, Bush has placed most of the onus for progress towards peace on the Palestinians.
"Prime Minister Sharon moved forward on a bold proposal and disengaged from Gaza. Now the Palestinian leadership has the opportunity to move forward on putting in place the institutions necessary for a democratic state to emerge," McClellan said Tuesday.
Washington has also reiterated its support for the so-called "roadmap" to peace drawn up by the "quartet" — the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
At the same time, the Bush administration has coupled statements of support for Israel”s right to defend itself with appeals for restraint and told both sides not to take any unilateral action that might harm the roadmap.
Abbas — who stopped in Jordan, Egypt, France and Spain on his way to Washington — hoped to win EU and US support for a resumption of peace talks under the roadmap.
He was expected to raise the Rafah crossing issue, and resist US pressure to exclude the radical Hamas movement from participating in the Palestinian legislative elections in January, according to Palestinian foreign minister Nasser al-Qidwa.
Bush has repeatedly denounced Hamas as "terrorist," but Washington has seemed increasingly resigned to the group”s participation after initially warning that there would be no US contact with Hamas members even if they win seats.
Israel has said that Hamas participation is unacceptable.