Arab League backs direct talks; timing up to Palestinians

(JTA) — The Arab League said it would back direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians when the Palestinians are ready to proceed.

In a meeting Thursday in Cairo with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the renewal of direct talks, the Arab League also expressed support for continuing indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians, according to reports.

The most important issue to consider was the Palestinian interests, not pressure from the United States, the Arab League said.

Shortly after the decision on direct talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he was ready to start "direct and frank talks with the Palestinian Authority," adding "that through direct negotiations, it is possible to reach a peace agreement between the two nations in the near future."

Qatar’s prime minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani, chaired the meeting of Arab foreign ministers and said that Arab nations have left the timing of direct talks to the Palestinians themselves.

The Obama administration has increased its pressure on Abbas for direct talks. George Mitchell, the U.S. special Middle East envoy, has served as an intermediary for the indirect talks.

Abbas reportedly has spoken about the immense pressure he is under, saying "I am under a kind of pressure I haven’t been through all my life."

"When I receive written assurances [about] accepting the 1967 border and halting the settlement [building], I will go immediately to the direct talks," he was quoted as saying in remarks reported by Egypt’s state-owned news agency Thursday.

Abbas said he would take assurances either directly from Netanyahu or indirectly from the United States or the leaders of Egypt and Jordan, two Arab nations that also have acted as mediators between the two sides.

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