RAMALLAH // The US secretary of state, John Kerry, announced late on Friday that he had "established a basis" for restarting talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The US initiative to restart negotiations after three years ended with a potential breakthrough after Mr Kerry made an unscheduled visit to Ramallah yesterday to meet the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.
"We have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final-status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis," he said in Jordan. "The agreement is still in the process of being formalised."
Mr Kerry said Israeli and Palestinian leaders would meet next week in Washington, DC but gave few other details of what the basis for talks would be. Palestinian and Israeli officials were not immediately available for comment.
Although the Palestinians and Israelis appear to have narrowed their differences, the challenges are still daunting.
Until Mr Kerry's announcement, Palestinian officials insisted no talks could take place unless Israel gave written assurances that it would halt settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war served as a basis.
It was unclear whether Mr Kerry, on his sixth visit to the region since taking office this year, had agreed to those demands or whether the Palestinians had backed down.
"There's a consensus among the leadership now that we need these guarantees in writing," said a Palestinian official.
He warned that "the most experienced negotiators are very sceptical of talks without more certainty" from Israel and the US.
Mr Abbas and his aides also baulked at Mr Kerry's suggestions that they accede to the demand by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, the official said.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which Mr Abbas heads, said its recognition of the state of Israel was sufficient.
To try to help Mr Kerry revive the peace process, US president Barack Obama, urged Mr Netanyahu to work "to resume negotiations with Palestinians as soon as possible", the White House said on Thursday.
Mr Kerry's peacemaking efforts this week received backing from the Arab League, which reiterated in April its 2002 offer to Israel of normal relations in exchange for its withdrawal from the territories captured during the 1967 war.
The 22-member bloc also altered the offer to allow Israel to keep some settlements in exchange for equal amounts of its own territory to be given to a Palestinian state, hoped to be built in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
More than 500,000 Israelis live in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, posing a major hurdle.
During this visit, Mr Kerry did not meet Mr Netanyahu, who has snubbed the Arab League's renewed offer of normal relations.
The Israeli leader also refuses to stop settler construction, which was the main reason for the collapse of the talks in 2010.
Leading the most pro-settler government in Israel's history, Mr Netanyahu has faced serious internal resistance to agreeing to Palestinian demands for a resumption of talks.
The economy and commerce minister, Naftali Bennett, on Thursday threatened to pull his far-right Habayit Hayehudi party out of Mr Netanyahu's coalition if there was an agreement to use the 1967 lines as a basis for negotiations.
Mr Bennett does not support the creation of a Palestinian state and has backed the idea of annexing large areas of West Bank land.
The Israeli premier also faces pressure from within his own Likud party. One far-right Likud parliamentarian, Miri Regev, said the "decision to resume negotiations on the basis of the 1967 borders is a mistake that endangers, rather than serves, the security of Israel".