The Arab League on Thursday endorsed direct Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, but said that indirect US-brokered talks should continue until Palestinian preconditions are met.
The timing of direct negotiations "is a matter for the Palestinian side to decide," said Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani from Cairo.
The Obama Administration had hoped the Arab League would press for direct peace talks, as it has been doing. The conditional endorsement fell short of what Washington wanted from the Cairo gathering.
Obama has put Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas under heavy pressure to return to the negotiating table with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Abbas insists that Israel must first meeting a long list of preconditions, including a complete Jewish building freeze in most of Jerusalem and a commitment to surrender 100 percent of the land demanded by the Palestinians.
Netanyahu insists he will not accept preconditions, but is ready to restart direct talks and to negotiate those points.
The White House has of late taken the Israeli side and become frustrated by Abbas' foot-dragging, though it also recognized that the Palestinian leader would be committing political suicide by restarting direct talks with Netanyahu.
Nevertheless, Obama and his Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, have noted that Netanyahu is enjoying widespread popularity at home, and is unlikely to be replaced any time soon. Therefore, to reject peace talks with his government is to effectively put the peace process on hold indefinitely.
Abbas and his aides are counting on the traditional American reaction of refocusing pressure on Israel rather than let the peace process simmer until the Palestinians are convinced to make a move.