US President Barack Obama has succeeded in setting up a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the start of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, but White House officials acknowledged the gathering is nothing but a photo opportunity and won't lead to renewed peace talks.
Obama has been trying to get Netanyahu and Abbas together in the same room since Netanyahu became prime minister back in March. Netanyahu has repeatedly declared his readiness to restart meaningful talks, but Abbas' insistence on extreme preconditions, such as a halt to all Jewish construction on the eastern side of Jerusalem, has kept the two apart.
Abbas has not loosened his positions, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was clear that the meeting is not expected to mark the beginning of renewed bilateral negotiations, but rather an effort to "lay the groundwork for the relaunch of negotiations."
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday blasted Abbas and the Palestinian Authority for squandering a golden opportunity to move toward a Palestinian state by not taking advantage of Obama's commitment to Middle East peace.
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