It takes three to tango to achieve peace in the Middle East, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday morning upon landing in the United States.
"The tango in the Middle East needs at least three. For years there have been two - Israel and the US. Now it needs to be seen if the Palestinians are also present," Netanyahu said.
"In any case, in order for us to have an agreement, we must uphold our vital interests. I have proven that I do so, in the face of all pressures and all the turmoil, and I will continue to do so here as well," the prime minister added ahead of his meeting with US President Barack Obama.
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Meanwhile, Obama administration officials worked to lower expectations ahead of the meeting Monday, that is expected to focus on both the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the Iranian nuclear negotiations.
While the Americans are hoping for at least modest progress, they do not foresee a breakthrough on the peace talks in the Oval Office meeting.
"If the president is able to sort of narrow gaps and get closer to where both parties support the ideas and the framework," a senior administration official said, "then that would be great."
But the official added, "It's not like this is going to be another Camp David 2000 ... I wouldn't expect major announcements about the future of the peace negotiations."
With time running out for a framework Israeli-Palestinian deal to salvage a troubled US-brokered peace process, Obama and Netanyahu sparred in public comments in the run-up to a meeting that will also focus on Iran's nuclear program.
Netanyahu arrived in Washington to a veiled warning from Obama that he would tell the Israeli leader the United States would find it harder to defend Israel against efforts to isolate it internationally if peace efforts failed.
Boarding his flight to the US capital, Netanyahu, who has had a strained relationship with Obama, said that Israel knew how to resist pressure and that he intended to stand firm on what he termed his country's "vital interests."
Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to persuade Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to a framework deal that would enable troubled land-for-peace negotiations to continue beyond the April 29 target date for a final accord. Abbas is due at the White House on March 17.
"When I have a conversation with Bibi, that's the essence of my conversation: If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?," Obama, using Netanyahu's nickname and borrowing from the Jewish rabbinical sage Hillel, said in an interview with Bloomberg View.
Palestinians seek to establish a state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those areas in the 1967 Six Days War and in 2005 pulled out of the Gaza Strip, now run by Hamas Islamist opposed to Abbas's peace efforts.
Israeli officials say the ball is in Abbas's court, noting his refusal so far to agree to a key Netanyahu demand: Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Netanyahu is likely to repeat that condition in a policy speech on Tuesday to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, a traditional podium for some of his most strident speeches.
Palestinians, who point to Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as an obstacle to peace, say they have already recognized the state of Israel, through official declarations and interim peace deals.
"We are working very close, very intensely with Kerry to try to make this process work," a senior Israeli official said.
The official declined to go into detail about the negotiations, which have been held under a virtual news blackout, but he said Israel was ready to show flexibility, noting that Netanyahu had already described a future Kerry paper as an American document.
That could give Netanyahu - and Abbas - leeway to register reservations that could keep political opponents of a deal at bay.
On the Iranian issue, there is little expectation on either side that the leaders will be able to bridge their fundamental differences.
Netanyahu denounced as a "historic mistake" an interim deal that world powers reached with Iran in November under which it agreed to curb sensitive nuclear activities in return for limited sanctions relief.
He has demanded that any final deal completely dismantle Tehran's uranium enrichment centrifuges, a position at odds with Obama's suggestion that Iran, which says its nuclear program is peaceful, could be allowed to enrich on a limited basis for civilian purposes.
"They're not going to have a meeting of the minds on this," said Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel.