26 May 2010
Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem
The invitation, delivered by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who is in Israel to celebrate his son's barmitzvah, is being interpreted as a fence-building exercise after a spat over peace talks that saw the relationship between two countries plunge to its lowest ebb in memory.
The agenda will include the Iranian nuclear challenge and the indirect peace talks with the Palestinians that finally got under way this month with US envoy George Mitchell shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Relations between the two close allies have been strained since Mr Netanyahu's election. Mr Obama is frustrated over Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank and the slow pace of peace talks with the Palestinians. For their part, the Israelis are concerned that Mr Obama's policy of "engagement" with Iran has blunted efforts to stop Tehran from acquiring a nuclear bomb that could destroy the Jewish state.
Their last meeting at the White House in March was widely interpreted as a snub to Mr Netanyahu, without any of the usual public statements or warm words that normally mark the visit of an Israeli prime minister and in stark contrast to the friendly reception Mr Obama has given several Arab leaders.
Recently, Mr Obama appears to have been trying to placate the Israelis. Last week, he told the Jewish Democratic caucus in Congress that he had made some mistakes when he stepped onto the Middle East "minefield" and "lost some fingers." He also approved $205 million to support Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system against short-range rockets from Gaza and Lebanon.
Israeli commentators suggested that next week's visit would be an attempt to show greater friendship to Mr Netanyahu and clear the air before the arrival of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, shortly afterwards.