Abbas, Obama Set for Crucial Meeting at White House

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is to meet Monday with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House for what sources close to Abbas say is one of the most crucial meetings between the two leaders in years.

Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said over the weekend the two men would discuss all matters involving the two-state solution in keeping with a just peace agreement leading to a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. Abu Rdeneh said the meeting was taking place at a sensitive time amid changes in the Arab world.

On the eve of Abbas’ departure for Washington, relatives of Palestinian prisoners who expect to be freed by Israel in a fourth stage of prisoner releases set up a tent outside the government center in Ramallah.

The families demanded that Abbas not give up on the release under pressure from Israel or the White House. The families want him to insist that the agreement to free 104 long-serving prisoners be implemented in its entirety before peace negotiations continue.

Palestinian officials noted that Abbas will be coming to the White House with Arab countries’ support for his stance not to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. They said the Palestinians had also obtained Russian support for their position on this issue, which would stymie efforts by the Quartet – the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia – to support such recognition.

The officials said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks in Congress criticizing Israel’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state had boosted the Palestinians. But the Palestinians said they were unperturbed by Kerry’s statement that former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had recognized the Jewish state.

“Back then, Arafat was speaking in the spirit of [the 1947] U.N. Security Council Resolution 181 for partition,” one official said. The words cannot be taken out of context because Arafat never agreed to give up the right of return or the national principles of the Palestinian people.”

A member of the PLO Executive Committee, Hanan Ashrawi, told Haaretz the Israeli government was creating obstacles to the negotiations. “Formulations based on the Zionist belief and narrative that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to make must be separated from the formulations based on principles of the international community and international law,” she said.

According to Ashrawi, “If Netanyahu thinks we’re going to turn into pro-Zionists, he’s very wrong. The question Israelis have to ask themselves is whether they want to destroy the two-state solution and bear the responsibility for the implications of this policy.”

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, speaks with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, during a meeting in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011.Credit: Via Bloomberg