MAHMOUD ABBAS is expected in Washington this week for the first visit to the White House by a Palestinian Authority president in years. He can distinguish himself from his predecessor - Yasser Arafat, whom Mr. Bush refused to see - by highlighting his accomplishments on security matters, identifying pragmatic ways the administration can help improve Palestinian lives and pressing the president on the prospects for peace after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
Mr. Abbas, known more commonly as Abu Mazen, must be a man on a mission and a president with a purpose. Absent those, the White House visit will be just another photo op. Mr. Abbas can't afford to come away from his meeting with Mr. Bush with only a hearty handshake. The situation in the Palestinian territories demands more than symbolic gestures.
The cease-fire Mr. Abbas helped negotiate with militants this year is being tested by a burst of violence in Gaza. Israeli settlement activity and construction of the security barrier in the West Bank continue apace. Palestinian elections this summer are expected to catapult the militant group Hamas into the parliament. U.S. aid promised to Mr. Abbas after his February election is tied up in Congress, which leaves needy Palestinian causes underfinanced.
Mr. Bush, who has endorsed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, must do more than assure Mr. Abbas that he has the president's support. The Bush administration should be planning for the period that follows Israel's withdrawal of 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and a cluster of northern West Bank settlements. A wait-and-see approach would reinforce Palestinian fears that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has no intention of doing anything more than leave Gaza - and that Mr. Bush is fine with that. Has the administration given any thought to what should happen after the withdrawal or if the Gaza disengagement doesn't go smoothly?
Compared with Israel's influence in Washington, the Palestinians are outmanned and outmaneuvered - and have been for decades. But if Mr. Bush is seriously committed to leveraging the political changes in the Palestinian Authority for the betterment of Israelis and Palestinians and to promote democracy in the region, he has to welcome Mr. Abbas with more than a polite embrace.