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U.S. media comments ahead of Obama-Abbas talks


MOSCOW, May 28 (RIA Novosti) - U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas later on Thursday in Washington as part of the new U.S. administration's bid for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Abbas is expected to ask Washington to pressure Israel to halt settlement expansion.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday Obama would support a complete freeze of construction on the West Bank as the Palestinians' condition for a peace deal at the talks.

"The Palestinian president is expected to focus on the issue of settlement expansion when he meets with Mr. Obama on Thursday in Washington. Mr. Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have said repeatedly that they see no point in resuming stalled peace negotiations without an absolute settlement freeze," The New York Times said.

"Mrs. Clinton's remarks, the administration's strongest to date on the matter, came as an Israeli official said Wednesday that the Israeli government wanted to reach an understanding with the Obama administration that would allow some new construction in West Bank settlements," the paper said.

Settlement growth has become a key point of disagreement between Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government insists on the "natural growth" of existing settlements, and its ally the United States.

The Chicago Tribune said "U.S. officials believe that a complete Israeli halt to settlement growth could lead to early concessions from moderate Arab nations and put new momentum behind the peace effort."

The Washington Post said supporters and critics of Abbas believe that his credibility "is wholly tied to those negotiations."

"If progress is not imminent - whether in the shape of a final agreement or at least something tangibly felt among Palestinians - his shaky hold on power could collapse, a setback for those who favor a moderate course," the paper said.

Abbas's Fatah movement is opposed by still popular among Palestinians Hamas, which won 2006 parliamentary elections and subsequently seized control of the Gaza Strip enclave. Talks on a joint government between Fatah and Hamas have made no progress.

Hamas's popularity is growing increasing popular against the backdrop of Fatah, which "is seen by many Palestinians as faltering under a legacy of corruption.

"It [Fatah] has not held a general convention in 20 years, frustrating younger activists and reformers", the paper said. Hamas on the other hand gained additional political points for its stand during "recent three-week war with Israel and fighting Israel's ongoing economic blockade of Gaza," The Washington Post reported.

The talks in the White House "may be as much about ways to bolster the Palestinian leader as about Obama's broader strategy," according to the paper.

Obama has made progress on Middle East peace a priority, and has met with Netanyahu and top Arab leaders. He travels to Egypt next week for a speech outlining what is widely expected to be a new U.S. approach toward the region.

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