A senior Palestinian official says Arab foreign ministers have given the green light to indirect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for a four-month period. Egyptian television also reported the news.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is attending the meeting, had said he would adhere to any decision made by the Arab League ministerial committee that convened this week in the Egyptian capital.
The decision is likely to break the months-long deadlock over resuming peace talks.
Israeli officials expressed their satisfaction with the report. Mark Regev, the prime minister's foreign press advisor said, "Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu has been calling for the resumption of talks for some time and we hope now that the talks can move forward."
A Palestinian source told Ynet that the Arab League had made a decision in principle, but is still expected to set conditions for resuming the negotiations. One of the conditions is expected to be a complete stop to settlements, at least during the negotiations period.
According to the source, the Arab countries will also stress the need to clarify the foundations and principles of the negotiations, and the fact that they stem from previous agreements and initiatives. Another condition expected to be added to the decision is the need to limit the talks with a clear timetable.
The United States has proposed so-called proximity talks to end the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians over the conditions for resuming negotiations.
Abbas and Arab League secretary-general in Cairo (Photo: AFP)
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Wednesday Arab foreign ministers in Cairo agreed to back the indirect talks for a period of four months. Erekat says the ministers are to meet after that time for a review.
Erekat said the Arab officials were not "convinced by Israeli intentions", but "they decided to give an opportunity of four months to the American proposal. If the indirect negotiations fail after four months, they will hold a meeting this coming July to assess the developments," he said.
Erekat's remark could also be presented as a deadline for Israel to implement the negotiations option, as he added, "If the negotiations fail – a series of measures will be taken, including turning to the Security Council."
According to the Palestinian negotiator, the PA leadership will make a decision of this kind during the PLO Executive Committee meeting on Saturday, ahead of the Arab League meeting in Libya later this month.
"There was no consensus on the agreement taken by the Arab peace initiative committee," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told ministers, adding it was not for the committee to decide on talks and that this was up to Palestinians alone.
Syria's Arab League ambassador, Yousef al-Ahmed, said the Arab League move appeared simply to give "political cover" for a Palestinian decision that had already been taken.
The Palestinian president will now return to the West Bank to get backing from his Fatah movement. Such approval is largely seen as a formality.
Abbas had resisted US and Israeli calls for a resumption of direct negotiations, saying Israel must first halt all Jewish settlement building on lands where the Palestinians aim to establish a state.
Palestinian officials have downplayed the significance of the idea of indirect talks tabled by Washington, arguing that US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell's shuttle diplomacy over the past year has amounted to just that.
Roee Nahmias, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report