US officials stepping up pressure on Netanyahu to cut deal on Israeli settlements

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Washington, Sep 2 (ANI): US officials are stepping up pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut a deal on curtailing Israeli settlements, and they're holding out a prize that both Netanyahu and President Barack Obama badly want: strong ties between both leaders.

Both sides said the US and Israel are near an agreement to halt expansion of Israeli settlements on disputed territory.

If Netanyahu approves, US officials said it could reopen direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Middle East peace for the first time since before Israeli's invasion of Gaza last winter, Politico reported.

But the Israeli premier and the American president have gotten off on an uncertain footing, with neither proving willing to make early compromises as the other expected.

The relationship is important to both leaders' domestic politics, and now US officials say the settlement negotiations give Netanyahu a way to show he's committed to the Middle East peace process.

"Netanyahu's at a pivotal moment. Depending on what he decides, he could wind up with a very strong relationship with President Obama and potentially become a historic figure in Israel," said a senior US official.

"It could very well hinge on what he decides in the next couple of weeks," said the official.

Another senior US official held out a similar carrot for Netanyahu: This moment offers the opportunity to "forge a very important and positive relationship between Netanyahu and the president," the official said.

Netanyahu spokesman Ron Dermer declined to comment on the Americans' characterization, but Israel has been reluctant to cast settlements as a central question in the peace process, and another senior Israeli government official downplayed the importance of a deal this month. (ANI)

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