WASHINGTON // President Barack Obama will host a meeting on Tuesday with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to lay the groundwork for renewed negotiations on Middle East peace. The meeting comes at a time when US efforts were encountering strong resistance in the region. The three-way meeting will take place immediately after Mr Obama meets separately with each of the two leaders, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday. Mr Netanyahu's office said in a statement today the Israeli leader "warmly accepts the invitation".
The special envoy George Mitchell says it is another sign of Mr Obama's commitment to comprehensive peace. The meetings will take place in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting. No announcement is expected at the meeting of the three leaders, according to an administration official. But Mr Obama scheduled the meeting to show his personal commitment to making progress, said the official. On Friday, the possibility of a three-way meeting had been in doubt because Mr Mitchell failed to bridge wide gaps between Israelis and Palestinians.
The key disputes are over Israeli settlement expansion and whether peace talks should begin where they left off under Mr Netanyahu's predecessors. Israel has balked at a US demand that it freeze settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, war-won territory the Palestinians want for their state. Under a US-sponsored plan from 2003, Israel is required to freeze all such construction. If next week's three-way meeting is not based on a settlement freeze it will mark a further setback for the already weakened Mr Abbas. Mr Netanyahu wants to continue building about 3,000 housing units on the West Bank, while offering to curtail other construction for several months.