When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits the White House
this week, the first Palestinian leader to meet with President Bush
will be feted as an example of democracy's possibilities in the
But Mr. Abbas, elected only in January yet already facing a new
round of national elections scheduled for this summer, will also
stand as an example of democracy's uncertainties.
The rising attraction to many Palestinians of Islamic radicalism
as a political force is evident in the strength of the extremist
Hamas organization in recent municipal elections. Hamas looks as if
it could challenge the traditional dominance of Abbas's secular
Fatah organization in the upcoming Legislative Council elections.
Thus an international press is on - including in the US - to bolster
Abbas and moderate, reformist forces.
What remains unclear is how the Bush-Abbas meeting on Thursday
will play among Palestinians. Officials close to Abbas have said he
will seek to convince Bush to pressure Israel to stick to the "road
map" for peace and to ease conditions for Palestinians in occupied
Yet its far from certain that Bush will choose the delicate weeks
preceding Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza to push the
government of Ariel Sharon.
At the same time, a certain disappointment has started to tarnish
Palestinian expectations of the US. One reason: The US has been slow
to deliver on the substantial economic aid that an enthusiastic Bush
pledged to the post-Arafat Palestinians in his State of the Union
"There is a growing sentiment among Palestinians that the Bush
administration has not delivered on its lofty rhetoric about the
benefits of democracy and progressive reforms, and that
disappointment is starting to have political impact," says Fawaz
Gerges, a Middle East specialist at Sarah Lawrence College in
Bronxville, N.Y. "Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to put the
Palestinian house in order and to show the Palestinian people that
there is light at the end of the tunnel. But he is not getting much
help in doing that."
In his State of the Union address, Bush pledged $350 million to
help Abbas's reform efforts. But so far the president has requested
$200 million in assistance that is now making its way through
And critics of the allocation are emphasizing that Congress is so
far earmarking about $140 million of the package to Abbas's
Palestinian Authority, while the rest of the package is going to
accountability measures and to Israel for border checkpoint
construction and to private hospitals.
"Clearly Abbas is coming with a request for the president to make
good on his call to support Palestinian democracy, and that request
will be in the form of lots of aid to improve social and economic
conditions," says Bernard Reich, an expert on the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict at George Washington University in Washington.
"But Congress has shown no particular interest in providing large
amounts of unrestricted aid."
Abbas will also be looking for Bush to commit to the process
leading to a Palestinian state after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza,