The state department stressed that President George Bush's July 2002 belief that Arafat is not committed to peace with Israel and decision to declare him persona non grata would stand despite anything Abbas might say.

"Our view on Arafat is unfortunately based on many years of experience and attempts to work with him, many years of his failing to deliver and we have not changed our view in any way," spokesman Richard Boucher said. 

Despite ignoring Abbas' key demand, Boucher welcomed his recommitment to the faltering "roadmap" for Israeli-Palestinian peace and lauded his demand for full control over the Palestinian security apparatus.

Power struggle

Abbas is embroiled in a power struggle with Arafat. But in a speech earlier on Thursday to Palestinian lawmakers in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Abbas urged Washington to end its boycott of Arafat, describing him as "the constitutional and legitimate president" of the Palestinian people.

Abbas also said it was time for "healing the dispute between the government and the (Arafat) presidency."

Although Boucher dismissed Abbas' appeal on Arafat he praised the prime minister's attempts to wrest control of the Palestinian security services in a bid to rein in groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad that have been staging resistance attacks against Israel.

Boucher declined to comment on (Abbas')criticism that Washington was not doing enough to press Israel on its commitments to the roadmap.

"We certainly welcome prime minister Abbas' reaffirmation of the Palestinian commitment to the roadmap and his call for the consolidation of the Palestinian security services under his authority in order to permit progress on the roadmap," he said.

The United States has been demanding for weeks that Arafat cede control over all security forces to Abbas.

Boucher declined to comment on criticism of the United States that Abbas made in his speech in which he said Washington was not doing enough to press Israel on its commitments to the roadmap.

Frozen contacts

He did say that "both sides" had to do more to get the roadmap back on track, but insisted that the primary obstacle to peace was violence against Israel.

"It is in the interests of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people that these acts of terror and violence come to an end," Boucher said.
 
Abbas was also highly critical of Israel in the address, saying the Jewish state was entirely to blame for the crisis which has hit the peace process because it has not followed through on its roadmap commitments.

Boucher dismissed those comments, saying, "Each side believes the other side hasn't done enough.

Israel decided to freeze all contacts with the Abbas government after a bus bombing in Jerusalem on 19 August, which scuppered a seven-week ceasefire.

The Israeli military has since launched a series of deadly air strikes against members from of the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, accusing the Abbas government of failing to rein in Palestinian fighters.