With Questions About His Ability to Negotiate, Abbas Comes to White House with Demands

By Caitlin Taylor

May 28, 2009 11:01am

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, 74, arrived in Washington, DC, yesterday, and attended a working dinner with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Abbas today comes to the White House to meet President Obama, holding a list of demands. He wants Israel to commit to ending any settlement development and he wants Israel to commit to a Palestinian state.

But a chorus of voices are wondering if Abbas has the power to demand or negotiate anything.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum this week said that “Abbas’ term in office had ended" and “he no longer represents the Palestinian people." Barhoum said Hamas wouldn’t accept any agreement signed by Abbas and that even several leaders of Abbas’s own Fatah movement won’t support him.

“Gaza is still under siege, the occupation is still annexing Palestinian lands in the West Bank and East Jerusalem," Barhoum said. “Israel is still acting to void any possibility of a Palestinian state, and is acting to create a racist fundamental Jewish state by voiding the Palestinian rights”.

“Abbas doesn’t even have power in downtown Ramallah, where he works and lives,” Khaled Abu Toameh, the Arab-born West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post told Canadian reporters this week.

"When he is talking to the American administration, and the areas under his rule are divided, it does not bode well," Abbas’s own chief of staff, Rafiq Husseini, told the Washington Post. "Despite the difficulties and despite the disunity within the Palestinian debate, he is still the president and he is still ready to reach a deal" with the Israelis.

A new poll by Birzeit University suggests that 58 percent of Palestinians support a joint coalition of the Fatah and Hamas.

Standing alongside Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary Clinton yesterday said President Obama made it clear last week to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that "he wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly. … And we intend to press that point."

What points does the White House plan on pressing with Abbas?

So far, despite repeated requests, the White House has no comment.

- jpt

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