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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Obama has called on Jerusalem to halt settlement construction
and on the Palestinians to show progress on security and stopping
violence against Israel.