Israel, US at odds over Abbas's role

US believes Abbas is a significant voice in PA; Olmert calls him "weak."

abbas and bush ap 298  (photo credit: AP)
abbas and bush ap 298
(photo credit: AP)
Israel and the US do not see eye to eye on the role of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the region and President Bush is expected to stress in his talks with PM Olmert Tuesday the need to empower Abbas and to cooperate with him. While the US administration believes that Abbas is a significant voice in the PA and may serve as the key person if and when the Hamas looses power, Israel tends to minimize the Palestinian president's importance. Olmert said on Sunday in an interview with CNN that Abbas "is too weak to represent his nation" and that he is not able to stop any kind of terror on the Palestinian side. Olmert went on to call Abbas "powerless" and "helpless." The US did welcome Olmert's decision to dispatch his two deputies - Tzipi Livni and Shimon Peres to meet with Abbas Sunday, but would like to see a deeper engagement of the Israeli leadership in talks with the Palestinian president. The administration, however, does not expect Olmert to hold final status talks with Abbas. White House spokesman Tony Snow, when asked on the issue of Olmert's comments regarding Abbas, said only "the viability of the Palestinian Authority is a key matter." Teams of Israeli and US officials met Monday to discuss the language of the statements both leaders will give after their meeting Tuesday. Olmert and Bush's advisers could not reach an agreement regarding the issue of Olmert's plan for unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank. The Israelis asked that President Bush acknowledge in his remarks Olmert's plan as a positive course of action in case all sides reach the conclusion that bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians are not possible. Bush's advisers would like the president to refrain from any direct reference to the unilateral plan and to focus on the need for a negotiated agreement. This issue was expected to be discussed in a working dinner Olmert was to hold Monday night with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Bush and Olmert will begin their White House meeting at 3 o'clock (Washington time) and will be together two hours. At the end of the meeting the two leaders will address the press in the East Room and from their will go on to a joint working dinner. In his talks with Olmert, according to US sources, President Bush will try to get a better impression of the new Israeli PM and to learn more about his political power in Israel and his ability to move ahead with dramatic steps regarding the Palestinian. Bush and his advisers will also want to make sure that Olmert's plan to set Israel's borders unilaterally won't draw too much resentment on behalf of Israel's neighbors. The US believes that any move should be done in consultation with Jordan and Egypt. Olmert will also meet Tuesday with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. On Wednesday he will address a joint session of congress and before departing for Israel he will meet with a group of Jewish leaders.