Israeli PM due for May 20 White House talks

The stalled Middle East peace process is expected to top the agenda.

Washington: President Barack Obama will host Israel`s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Oval Office talks on May 20, with the stalled Middle East peace process expected to top the agenda.

"The leaders look forward to discussing the full range of issues of mutual interest to the United States and Israel," the White House said in a statement.

The announcement came as Netanyahu visits Britain and France this week to counter Palestinian plans to seek United Nations recognition of their statehood, as peace talks remain mired in a stalemate over the issue of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

Netanyahu is also telling his allies he cannot negotiate with the Palestinians under a reconciliation deal signed on Tuesday between warring government factions Hamas and Fatah.

Negotiations between the two sides have been on hold since they were re-launched in Washington in late September, when a 10-month, partial Israeli settlement freeze expired and Netanyahu refused to renew it, allowing new housing developments to begin.

Obama subsequently told the UN General Assembly that the Israelis and Palestinians could clinch an agreement within a year -- by September 2011 -- and an "independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel" could rise.

There have been few US initiatives since.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe earlier said France may turn a donors` conference on a future Palestinian state set for June into a political meeting to re-launch the on-and-off peace process.

"How much will we be able to get him to evolve? You know the man, his character, his determination," Juppe said of Netanyahu, playing down the chances of a rapid breakthrough in the peace process.

"Our idea is to try a last resort initiative, so that, in the month of September, when the question of recognising (a Palestinian state) is raised, we can say we tried everything."

The Palestinian accord will see the two factions work together to build a transitional government of independent candidates, while leaving the issue of peace negotiations in the hands of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, headed by president Mahmud Abbas.

Netanyahu has criticised it as a blow to peace.

The Palestinians have insisted they will not talk while Israel builds on land they want for a future state, and Israel has attracted fierce international criticism for its settlement policy.

Bureau Report

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