CAIRO: Arab officials agreed on Thursday to the holding of direct Middle East peace negotiations and left it up to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to decide when to start talks with Israel, the Qatari prime minister and foreign minister said.
Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al-Thani, who chaired a meeting of foreign ministers and representatives, spoke in response to a question about whether they had given Abbas a green light to start talks.
"I’ll be clear. There is an agreement but with the understanding of what will be discussed and how the direct negotiations will be conducted. And we will leave the assessment of the position to the Palestinian president as to when the conditions allow the beginning of such negotiations," he said.
Sheikh Hamad said the meeting agreed on sending a letter to US President Barack Obama that outlined "our understanding to any peace process or direct negotiations.¨
It discussed placing a schedule on the talks and "fixed principles" relating to a near agreement during talks between former Israeli premier Ehud Barak and the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa said at the press conference that written guarantees were required for direct talks.
There "must be written guarantees … and the negotiations should be serious and final status talks," he said.
Thursday’s meeting was expected to back Abbas’s condition that Israel guarantee a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 war borders between the Jewish state and east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
"The issue is not US pressure, the issue is what is in the Palestinians’ interests," Arab League official Hisham Yussef, who heads the secretary general ‘s office, told AFP earlier.
"Their interest from their perspective is clear — they want to see progress in the proximity talks and we support them."
Abbas also wants an end to settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel acceded to US pressure to limit settlement building in the West Bank until September, when a moratorium ends.
He said earlier that he was facing "pressures I have never faced before in my life from the American administration and the European Union and the secretary general of the United Nations," and added he would step down if he saw "matters are not going well."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is willing to meet Abbas to discuss all the core issues of the decades-old conflict, and has accused the Palestinians of avoiding engaging in direct talks.