Palestinian leader invited to WH for talks

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been invited to the White House for talks with President Barack Obama, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

The invitation was made after U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell met with Abbas and other officials as part of a diplomatic mission intended to reopen stalled peace negotiations with Israel. Palestinians still refused to agree to indirect talks with Israel, but Abbas could accept the invitation to the White House.

Here is more from the AP:

Palestinian officials said President Mahmoud Abbas plans to consult with Arab countries at the end of the week and could soon be heading to the White House for talks with Obama.

Abbas needs to decide whether to engage with Israel, with Mitchell as a go-between, even though Israel has rejected his demands to freeze new construction for Jews in east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital.

A senior Palestinian official said Abbas was inclined to agree to the talks, in large part because of personal appeals in recent days from Obama, Mitchell and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal Palestinian deliberations.

The Palestinians have low expectations of the U.S.-brokered talks, but also want to avoid offending Obama and do not want to be cast in the role of nay-sayers.

At the start of Israel's weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Israel's talks with Mitchell as "very positive" and voiced hope that the Palestinians would return immediately to the negotiating table.

The invitation comes on the heels of pressure from Congress on the Obama administration to mend ties with Israel.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) delivered a stinging rebuke of Obama's handling with Israel on a radio show this week, calling it "terrible" and counterproductive. 

The New York senator's criticism followed a letter signed by more than 360 members of Congress urging Obama to repair the frayed relationship with its ally.

Many lawmakers are upset over the administration's demand that Israel halt all settlement construction as a precondition to full peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

That stance has resulted in some high-profile disputes between Israel and the White House, namely when new construction in East Jerusalem was announced during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel last month.

The administration saw this as a slap, and Netanyahu later apologized for the timing.

When he visited the U.S. in late March, Obama declined a photo opportunity with Netanyahu and reportedly did not dine with him — widely considered a major snub of a longtime ally. 

The Obama administration has publicly said that it still considers Israel a strong ally, but that there are still outstanding issues that need to be resolved.