The Palestinians believe they don't have enough common ground with Netanyahu for successful negotiations. They also fear the Israeli leader wants negotiations more to ease diplomatic pressure on Israel than to truly seek a deal. A final agreement would require difficult concessions, including a division of Jerusalem.
Israel, for its part, believes the Palestinians are to blame for refusing to return to the peace table without preconditions. Netanyahu has said peace talks cannot be fruitful if the Palestinians continue to refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland.
Abbas and his aides argue that negotiations can only resume if the U.S. engages fully and if Obama is willing to spend political capital on pressuring Netanyahu. Wednesday's White House comments suggest that such involvement is unlikely in the near future.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, said Thursday that she hopes Obama's visit "signals an American promise to become an honest and impartial peace broker."
"The U.S. can play this positive role by engaging in an effective and constructive manner rather than by repeating the same policy of negotiations for their own sake," she said.
Previous visits to the region by U.S. presidents have raised high expectations for U.S.-brokered peace deals. The White House tried to lower those expectations this time, emphasizing that the president's focus will be to turn a new leaf with his Israeli counterpart, with whom he had frosty relations during his first administration.
U.S. officials said Obama will meet with Netanyahu and Palestinian leaders and will stress the importance of getting the parties back to the negotiating table, but that the administration does not see the immediate revival of the peace process as a realistic prospect.
"That is not the purpose of this visit," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. The White House has not announced a date for Obama's visit, but Israeli media reported he will arrive March 20 for a three-day visit.