Back on track? US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday she expects Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks - indirect discussions through US mediators - to begin next week.
"We will be starting with proximity talks next week," Clinton told reporters, saying US special envoy George Mitchell would be returning to the Middle East.
Clinton said the US expected an Arab foreign ministers meeting on Saturday to endorse the new talks, which would give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas political cover to resume indirect negotiations.
"Ultimately we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues," Clinton said during a meeting with visiting Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah.
"They've been close a few times before," Clinton said. "So we are looking to see the resumption of those discussions."
One Abbas aide, Saeb Erekat, said his side would await the results of the Arab foreign ministers meeting on Saturday as well as of a Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee next week.
Kuwait's Al-Sabah said he was confident Arab states would back the initiative to get talks back on track. "We support fully the position that the United States has taken," he said.
US assurances to Abbas?
On Friday, State Department Spokesman Phillip Crowley said the US was "working around the clock to move forward with proximity talks. He added that the US hopes that indirect talks "will set the stage for a resumption of direct negotiations on all permanent status issues as soon as possible."
As part of the efforts to convince the Palestinians to enter the talks, the US has given Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas private assurances, including an offer to consider allowing UN Security Council condemnation of any "significant new Israeli settlement activity," the Guardian reported overnight Friday.
Speaking to Likud members earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also expressed optimism that proximity talks will get underway soon.
"We hope we are on the verge of peace talks with the Palestinians," he said.
Special envoy Mitchell was in the region last week and met with PM Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Officials at the PM's Office said the meeting between Netanyahu and Mitchell was constructive, but that no agreement on renewing the talks was reached at the time.
Ynet staff contributed to the story