US-Israel ties: Why Obama wants more from Netanyahu
President Obama hosts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House today for the first time since March, when he humiliated Mr. Netanyahu amid a US-Israel flap over settlements.
Tel Aviv, Israel
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After US envoy George Mitchell returned home after another round of indirect talks last week, Americans are impatient for substantive progress before Israel's temporary freeze on West Bank settlements expires in September. Such progress will not only move Israelis and Palestinians closer to a peace deal, it will also help the US shore up international support for implementing the recently approved United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran's nuclear program.
"There are a lot of factors that are coming together at the moment. And there is a question of how long it can carry on like this. The process is going no where,'' says one locally based Western diplomat who requested to remain anonymous. "The American patience is growing thin. There are factors banging on the door for Israel, like its diplomatic isolation. And time is running out on the two-state solution.''
Mr. Netanyahu's trip to Washington will be his first since March. Coming amid what some characterized as unprecedented strains in the US-Israel relationship, Netanyahu's last White House visit was widely seen as humiliating – no press conference, and not even a photo opportunity. Since then, the international furor over Israel's fatal intercept of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla has left Netanyahu more isolated than ever.
Netanyahu's reception is expected to be warmer this time after Israel showed responsiveness to US demands for an easing of the Gaza blockade.
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What Obama wants
The Israeli leader is expected to be pressed by the Obama administration to extend a temporary moratorium on building new housing in the Jewish settlements, say analysts.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who visited the White House last month, will be prodded to drop his reluctance to engage in the face-to-face negotiations that Netanyahu keeps asking for. Mr. Abbas has been under pressure from Palestinians not to enter direct negotiations until Israel commits to a permanent settlement freeze. So far, Israel has agreed only to a 10-month building moratorium, which expires at the end of September.