The U.S. general overseeing Israeli and Palestinian compliance with the long-stalled peace "road map" will convene the first three-way meeting on the plan on Friday but without Israel's defence minister in attendance.
Israel has been bracing for unusually strong U.S. criticism for not living up to its commitments under the "road map", particularly with regard to settlement building.
The 2003 plan calls on Israel to remove Jewish outposts built without government authorisation in the occupied West Bank and to halt all Israeli settlement activity in the territory. It also demands the Palestinians crack down on militants.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad were expected to attend the trilateral meeting in Jerusalem with General William Fraser, who was appointed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to oversee road map implementation.
But a defence ministry spokeswoman said on Thursday Barak would not attend the meeting and would instead send senior Defence Ministry strategist Amos Gilad, whose portfolio covers many of the issues Fraser was expected to raise.
Barak's decision not to attend the meeting caught some U.S. and Palestinian officials by surprise and could prove embarrassing.
Friday's closed-door meeting will be the first since a November conference in Annapolis, Maryland, relaunched peace talks with the goal of trying to reach a statehood agreement before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office next January.
Fraser has submitted his first confidential report on road map implementation to Rice. The contents have been kept secret.
U.S. officials said ahead of Friday's meeting that Washington was not satisfied with the pace at which Israel was moving to implement the road map.
Washington has been particularly critical of Israel's decision to push ahead with settlement expansion on occupied land, a move they see as damaging to U.S.-backed peace talks with the Palestinians.
"The United States considers the expansion of settlement activity to be not consistent with Israeli obligations under the road map and we have made that very clear. I have also said that it is certainly not helpful for the peace process," Rice told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday.
Israel has likewise failed to uproot the unauthorised outposts in the West Bank.
U.S. officials said Washington believed the Palestinians needed to do more to meet their obligations to boost security and rein in militants in the West Bank, though U.S. officials have privately complained to Israel that its frequent raids were undermining those efforts.