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Arab leaders give OK for direct Palestinian talks with Israel

By the CNN Wire Staff
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The Arab League backs direct peace talks
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Arab League, meeting in Cairo, gives an OK to direct talks
  • Netanyahu responds by saying Israel ready for talks soon
  • Abbas will decide whether to go ahead with direct talks
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Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- Arab leaders gave the Palestinian Authority on Thursday the green light for direct talks with Israel, a move that prompted the Israeli prime minister to say his country is ready for the face-to-face talks as well.

"In response to the decisions of the Arab League, PM Benjamin Netanyahu says that he is willing to commence direct and honest talks with the Palestinian Authority within the next few days," the Israeli prime minister's office said.

"Through direct negotiations it will become possible to quickly reach a peace agreement between the two nations."

The Arab League made it clear it is now up to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas whether to enter direct talks with Israel.

The Arab League decision comes after intense Western pressures and more than a year and a half of a stalled peace process.

Israel and the Palestinians have been meeting indirectly with George Mitchell, the Obama administration's point man for the Middle East, shuttling between the sides.

In a meeting with 13 Arab foreign ministers at the Arab League headquarters Thursday in Cairo, Abbas discussed the progress of these latest indirect -- or so-called proximity -- talks.

Abbas has been reluctant to agree to direct talks in part because of continued Israeli settlement activity. Palestinians also have said they want a return to the pre-1967 Israeli-Arab war border.

After the meeting, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters that "we have entered into the final phase of those negotiations. ... We are not ready to get again into [a] protracted process of negotiations that would allow procrastination."

Moussa and Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, who spoke at the news conference, doubted that direct talks will succeed, but agreed to give them a chance because there were "written assurances" from U.S. President Obama to stick to a two-year time frame for the talks.

"If it is a game, we are in the game," Moussa said.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has welcomed the Arab League decision.

"The minister said today in Washington that only direct negotiations would enable progress for a peace agreement and for a two-state solution. Minister Barak added that the negotiations would require difficult and brave decisions by both sides. The minister expressed his hope that the Palestinians understand this as well," Barak's spokesman said.

CNN's Amir Ahmed contributed to this report