US President Barack Obama will host a meeting Tuesday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in an effort to lay the groundwork for renewed peace negotiations, the White House announced Saturday night.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the three-way meeting would take place after Obama meets separately with each of the two leaders.
"These meetings will continue the efforts of President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Special Envoy George Mitchell to lay the groundwork for the relaunch of negotiations, and to create a positive context for those negotiations so that they can succeed," the statement said.
However, the Prime Minister's Office said Sunday that the meeting will not serve as a preparation for negotiations and not constitute renewal of negotiations where they were left off, but rather be a preliminary meeting to lay the groundwork for further meetings.
Netanyahu, the statement continued, never set any preconditions for meeting the Palestinian leadership and was ready to travel anywhere in the world and meet any leader so long as the meeting would advance peace.
The announcement of the meeting came as something of a surprise, as earlier this week Mitchell failed to make progress in talks with the two leaders. Hours before Saturday night's announcement, Israel and the PA continued to squabble over which side was to blame for the current stall in peace talks.
On Thursday several PA officials hinted that such a meeting might take place, but stressed that the Palestinians would not drop their demand that Israel halt all construction in settlements before the resumption of peace talks. A PA official said that under the current circumstances, a decision by Abbas to meet with Netanyahu would only be because of the heavy pressure the Americans have been exerting on him in recent weeks.
In Saturday's statement, Mitchell said the planned meeting was "another sign of the president's deep commitment to comprehensive peace that he wants to personally engage at this juncture."
The meetings will take place in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting.
No announcement is expected at the meeting of the three leaders, according to an administration official. But Obama scheduled the meeting to show his personal commitment to making progress, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the discussions.
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.