Palestinians meet Bush

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FAISAL Husseini, head of the Palestinian team at the Middle East peace talks, is expected to meet President George Bush in the White House this week, in a move that could break the deadlock in the negotiations.

The President is understood to have issued the invitation last week and it is certain to have been agreed by the President- elect, Bill Clinton. The meeting is intended to boost the standing of the Palestinian leadership in the Occupied Territories and to build up their strength in relation to the PLO in Tunis.

Mr Husseini was expected to fly to Washington today, according to Palestinian sources in Jerusalem. It will be the first time Palestinian leaders from the Occupied Territories have held official talks with a US president. In the past the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, has opposed such a meeting. However, he seems to have sanctioned the move and no doubt sees it as a chance for the Palestinians to lobby for a new United States-PLO dialogue.

It is understood that Israel was not formally consulted about the meeting, but is not expected to object. Government sources in Jerusalem say there could be advantages in giving the local Palestinian leadership new credibility.

For several months now Israel has been saying that it is Mr Arafat who has been holding up progress in the peace talks. Israel has a strong interest in promoting the standard of the local leadership and isolating the PLO, which it continues to define as a terrorist organisation.

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