Obama to meet Netanyahu amid doubt on peace talks

Sun Nov 8, 2009 4:48pm EST

WASHINGTON Nov 8 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on Monday, amid Washington's faltering efforts to jump-start stalled Middle East peace talks.

An Obama administration official confirmed the two leaders would meet but had no immediate information about what would be on their agenda.

Obama's decision to meet Netanyahu will likely anger Palestinians already frustrated by a perceived shift in policy by the Obama administration to accommodate Israeli expansion of West Bank settlements.

Netanyahu has rebuffed Obama's call for an immediate halt to construction of the settlements and said it should not be a precondition to restarting peace talks.

The settlement issue is a major obstacle in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and has opened the most serious rift in Israel's relations with the United States in a decade.

U.S. officials insist Washington still wants a freeze on settlement building but that it need not be a precondition for talks, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is demanding.

Abbas said last week he did not want to run for re-election in January and voiced disappointment at what he saw as Washington's support for Israel's position on settlements.

Netanyahu was due to arrive in Washington on Sunday ahead of a speech to a forum of North American Jewish leaders.

Obama was also to have addressed the forum but canceled his speech in order to attend a memorial service on Tuesday for soldiers killed in a mass shooting at Fort Hood military base in Texas last week. His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, will speak in his place. (Reporting by Ross Colvin; Editing by Eric Walsh)