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Published Jul. 5, 2010

Associated Press

JERUSALEM - Israel's prime minister on Sunday endorsed a U.S. call for direct peace talks with the Palestinians, seeking to set a positive tone as he heads to the White House this week for talks with President Barack Obama.

After a rocky meeting between the two leaders in March, both Israel and the United States are taking great pains to sound more upbeat this time around. But underlying the meeting is the fact that despite a year and a half of U.S. diplomacy, Israelis and Palestinians can't even agree on whether to sit down together to talk.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long been calling for direct talks, but Palestinians have been wary of giving legitimacy to a hard-line Israeli government they view with suspicion.

"I have been willing to meet Abu Mazen from the first day of this government," Netanyahu said Sunday at a session of the Israeli Cabinet, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, "and 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," Netanyahu said.

Also on the agenda during Tuesday's meeting will be Israel's continuing response to the international outcry that followed the bloodshed aboard an international protest ship that tried to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Under U.S. pressure, Israel has agreed to ease the blockade to allow in more goods and construction materials - desperately needed to rebuild the war-torn area.