Published: Jul 06, 2010 11:35 AM EDT
Updated: Jul 06, 2010 8:35 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime

Minister Benjamin Netanyahu headed into a White House meeting

Tuesday with the same goal: trying to move the Israelis and

Palestinians to resume face-to-face peace talks.

Netanyahu on Sunday endorsed the U.S. call for direct talks

between the two parties, just days after White House officials said

Obama would push during the Oval Office session for those

negotiations to get under way sooner rather than later.

Addressing his cabinet Sunday, Netanyahu said the "time has

come" for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to get ready to meet

with the Israelis "because there is no other way to advance peace.

I hope this will be one of the results of the visit to

Washington."

Aides to Obama sounded a hopeful tone late last week, telling

reporters that weeks of shuttle diplomacy between the two sides by

George Mitchell, Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, had paid

off and "the gaps have narrowed."

"We believe there are opportunities to further narrow those

gaps, to allow the sides to take that next step to direct talks,"

said Daniel Shapiro, the senior Middle East director at the

National Security Council.

Obama and Netanyahu also are expected to discuss Israel's

decision Monday to significantly ease its blockade of the Gaza

Strip to let in most consumer goods. Israel's ban on exports from

Gaza and limits on shipments of construction material remain.

Israel came under heavy international pressure, including from

Obama and other top U.S. officials, to loosen its 3-year-old land

and naval blockade of the seaside territory following Israel's

deadly May 31 military raid on a flotilla trying to break the

embargo.

At the time, Obama said the situation was "unsustainable." He

called for a narrow blockade to bar weapons that Gaza's Hamas

rulers could use against Israel while admitting items the

territory's 1.5 million Palestinians need for daily living and

economic development.

Obama and Netanyahu also are likely to discuss efforts to end

Iran's nuclear weapons pursuit, including sanctions Obama signed

into law last week. That legislation followed a fourth round of

U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran.

Tuesday's meeting will be the fifth between Obama and Netanyahu

and would make up for a scheduled June 1 session at the White House

that Netanyahu canceled to deal with fallout from the flotilla

raid.

The session follows meetings Obama held at the White House in

recent weeks with key Mideast players, including Abbas and King

Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

It comes after a rocky White House meeting between Obama and

Netanyahu in March. That followed Israel's surprise announcement of

plans for new construction in east Jerusalem as Vice President Joe

Biden was in Israel and preparing for dinner with the prime

minister.

Getting both sides to resume direct talks, which broke off in

December 2008, is a huge challenge. One big sticking point is

Israel's continued construction of Jewish housing in east

Jerusalem, an area the Palestinians claim as part of a hoped-for

future state.

The Palestinians have refused to sit down with Netanyahu until

he agrees to freeze construction in areas they want for an

independent state. Israel recently said it has no intention of

doing so.

Abbas said last week that the borders of a future Palestinian

state and security relations with Israel are the two issues on the

table. He said direct talks can resume if an agreement is reached

on them.

Obama has called on Jerusalem to halt settlement construction

and on the Palestinians to show progress on security and stopping

violence against Israel.