Arab League backing

The Arab League, a 22-nation body, declared on Saturday that it backed one last round of US-brokered talks between Israelis and Palestinians within a four-month deadline.

"Despite the lack of conviction of the Israeli side in achieving peace, the committee affirms what was agreed on the 2nd of March 2010 in regards to the time period for the indirect negotiations," the Arab League said after a meeting of foreign ministers in Cairo, the Egyptian capital.

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It reaffirmed its demand for an end to settlement construction, calling for "a complete end to settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem".

The Arab League's statement came a day after Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, announced that the Middle East peace process was likely to resume next week.

The talks will not be the face-to-face meetings the US administration had wanted, but would involve US officials meeting with each side separately.

Erekat said a condition for Arab League support for continued talks would be a halt of settlement activity in the West Bank.

"If Israel builds one house in the West Bank, Palestinians will immediately stop the negotiations," he said.

Stalled talks

Negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel have been stalled since Israel's three-week assault on the Gaza Strip, run by the Palestinian group Hamas, began in December 2008.

Attempts to revive the peace process last month collapsed when Israel announced construction of new housing projects in occupied East Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the future capital of any independent state.

The Arab League issued a statement at the end of a summit in Libya last March rejecting Israel's settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory.

However, the leaders had failed at the time to reach consensus on the resumption of discussions between the two sides.