Peace talks between the PLO and Israel could begin within days, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported Thursday.
US Mideast envoy George Mitchell will be in Ramallah on Monday, chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds, while the Americans are reportedly hoping both sides will agree to talks ahead of US Vice President Joe Biden's arrival on Monday.
The US applauded a vote by the foreign ministers of the Arab League in Cairo on Wednesday that they would support the American initiative for indirect negotiations, but on a four-month deadline.
They also dismissed the talks as meaningless absent a settlement freeze. The PLO has ruled out direct peace talks until Israel agrees to stop all construction in West Bank settlements.
President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, said the Arab world only supported talks on the condition that the US would offer certain guarantees, interpreted as agreeing to restrain its use of vetoes at the UN Security Council, a common method to stop international resolutions condemning Israeli conduct. Abbas told the London-based daily Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat that the foreign ministers received guarantees, including letters, from US officials.
"The results are good as, most importantly, the Arabs support efforts of resuming indirect negotiations … but they have placed conditions and restrictions; these are important for us and them. The restrictions involve messages for the Americans," Abbas said.
US-backed peace negotiations were broken off in late 2008 as Israel launched an assault on the Gaza Strip that left some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. Since the end of the war, US President Barack Obama’s administration has been attempting to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.
Arab League foreign ministers said their decision was one final effort to promote peace through negotiations, although some voted against the resolution and others expressed hesitancy.
"Despite the lack of conviction in the seriousness of the Israeli side, the committee sees that it would give the indirect talks the chance as a last attempt and to facilitate the US role," the ministers said in a statement.
Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas leader and de facto Palestinian prime minister, urged the regional body to review its decision, while the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine rejected it outright.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset on Wednesday that "it seems the conditions for proximity talks are ripening," Haaretz quoted him as saying.
"All said and done, the world understands that this government is striving for negotiations. It has made some difficult steps to further these negotiations. It said things and did things," Netanyahu said.
Palestinians have refused "without justification and no reason whatsoever to reenter negotiations," he added.