Mahmoud Abbas comes to the White House today -Thursday for the first time as President of the Palestinian Authority.
The most important aspect of this meeting may be the fact that it is occurring at all.
Mr. Abbas's predecessor, Yasser Arafat, was not welcome at the Bush White House. But shortly after he assumed office, Mr. Abbas got an invitation from President Bush.
He is expected to ask Mr. Bush to pressure for action under the terms of the Middle East peace formula known as the road map. Mahmoud Abbas is also likely to urge the United States to provide assistance directly to the Palestinian government, instead of
channeling it through aid groups.
White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says President Bush welcomes the opportunity to meet with the Palestinian leader. He says while Mr. Bush backs Israel's plans to disengage from the Gaza Strip, the road map remains the best path to peace: "The President strongly supports the two-state vision that he outlined of Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security. And the way to get there is the road map."
Mr. McClellan says this is a hopeful moment in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and all sides need to live up to their responsibilities: "President Abbas has publicly spoken out against terrorism, and against violence aimed at Israelis. He's publicly spoken about stopping terrorism, and it's important that he continue to move forward to dismantle terrorist networks and organizations. That's one of the responsibilities he has."
The White House spokesman says the international community will support the Palestinian government as it takes on the terrorists and puts democratic institutions in place. He says the United States has made substantial commitments, and notes Japan recently joined in with a significant pledge of its own.