Barack Obama to put Benjamin Netanyahu under pressure over West Bank

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier, will come under fierce pressure from President Barack Obama to extend a 10-month freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

During their White House meeting, Mr Obama is expected to register his dismay at Israeli actions over the commando raid on an aid convoy to Gaza in which nine Turks died.

Israel has strongly resisted demands to apologise and Mr Netanyahu is likely to rebuff attempts to extend the settlement freeze, which expires at the end of September.

The meeting comes at a time of intense strain in the American-Israel relationship, a foreign policy foundation for both countries.

Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to Washington, was recently reported as saying in a private briefing that there was a "tectonic rift" between Jerusalem and Washington, a comment that he strenuously denied after it was publicised.

Mr Netanyahu will seek to emphasis his willingness to enter direct talks with the Palestinians as a means of deflecting the Gaza and settlement issues.

"I have been willing to meet Abu Mazen from the first day of this government," he said at a Cabinet meeting before setting off for the United States. "The time has come for him to be prepared to meet with us, because there is no other way to advance peace. I hope this will be one of the results of the visit to Washington."

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