(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama will try to accelerate the prospects of face-to-face peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians when he meets Tuesday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, White House officials said Friday.
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Obama's latest personal venture into the Middle East situation comes after his special envoy, George Mitchell, shuttled for weeks between the two sides in search of common ground. The White House hopes to pivot from these so-called proximity talks to direct negotiations between the parties, and soon.
"The gaps have narrowed," Daniel Shapiro, senior Middle East
director at the National Security Council, told reporters on Friday.
"And we believe there are opportunities to further narrow those gaps, to
allow the sides to take that next step to the direct talks. And so
The White House is billing that effort as the primary thrust of the
Obama-Netanyahu meeting, one that also will cover efforts to halt Iran's
apparent pursuit of nuclear weaponry, conflict in the Gaza Strip and
other regional security challenges. The session will be the fifth
between the two leaders, and will be watched closely.
This was the Netanyahu visit that was supposed to happen on June 1, but
the meeting was scuttled after Israel's deadly raid on May 31 on a
flotilla aiming to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The raid caused an
international uproar, injecting new tensions into Israel's relations
with the United States and other allies.
In previewing the Netanyahu visit, White House national security
officials sought to emphasize that US-Israeli cooperation is strong, and
momentum is building. "In no way do we perceive a rift," Shapiro said
when asked about the view that the relationship had weakened under
Netanyahu has called for direct talks with Palestinians to begin again.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli reporters this week
that the borders of a future Palestinian state and security relations
with Israel are the two issues on the table, and that if an agreement on
them is reached, direct talks can resume.
Obama, meanwhile, has committed to "spend a lot of time and energy and
political capital" on keeping the two sides moving toward a breakthrough,
as he told Abbas in their own Oval Office meeting on June 9. He has
urged Israel to curb disputed settlement activity and to recognize
progress on security from the Palestinians; Obama says Palestinians
must show more gains in security and must end incitement against Israel.