The leaders have tangled over Israeli settlements and how to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Netanyahu also famously lectured the president in front of the media during a 2011 meeting in the Oval Office, and later made no secret of his fondness for Republican challenger Mitt Romney in last year’s presidential campaign.
Beyond Mideast peace, the two leaders have similar regional goals, including ending the violence in Syria and containing the political tumult in Egypt, which has a decades-old peace treaty with Israel.
The president’s trip comes at a time of political change for Israel.
Netanyahu’s power was diminished in January elections, and he struggled to form a government. He finally reached a deal on Friday with rival parties, creating a coalition that brings the centrist Yesh Atid and pro-settler Jewish Home parties into the government and excludes the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties for the first time in a decade.
The coalition will be sworn in Monday, two days before Obama’s arrival.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Saturday congratulated Israelis on their new government. He said the president looked forward to working closely with Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders to address common challenges and advance shared interests in peace and security in the region.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, acknowledged that with a new government, “you don’t expect to close the deal on any one major initiative.” But he said starting those conversations now “can frame those decisions that ultimately will come down the line.”
Among those decisions will be next steps in dealing with Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
Israel repeatedly has threatened to take military action should Iran appear to be on the verge of obtaining a bomb. The U.S. has pushed for more time to allow diplomacy and economic penalties to run their course, though Obama insists military action is an option.