Israeli and Palestinian officials will resume long-stalled peace talks on Tuesday, giving US Secretary of State John Kerry his first concrete achievement after six months of shuttle diplomacy.
"Secretary Kerry spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and personally extended an invitation to send senior negotiating teams to Washington to formally resume direct final status negotiations," State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.
She said initial meetings are planned for Tuesday in Washington in which the Israelis will be represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho, and the Palestinians will be represented by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh.
Psaki said the US and the two parties are looking forward to beginning these substantive discussions and in moving forward toward a final status agreement.
"As Kerry announced on July 19 in Amman, Jordan, the Israelis and Palestinians had reached agreement on the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations.
"The meetings in Washington will mark the beginning of these talks. They will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months," Psaki said.
The peace talks were stalled since September 2010 over Israel's policy of settlement in the occupied land.
In his invitation, Kerry had commended the courage shown by Netanyahu and Abbas.
"Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point. We are grateful for their leadership," Kerry said.
Ahead of the talks, Israel's divided cabinet approved a proposal by Prime Minister Netantyahu to allow the contentious release of 104 Palestinian prisoners.
The cabinet also approved a bill to submit any peace treaty with the Palestinians to a referendum, largely seen as an effort to appease an overwhelming right wing coalition wary of concessions that Israel could be demanded to make during the talks to be held in Washington.
"Any agreement which may be reached in negotiations will be put to a referendum," the Prime Minister's office said in a statement. "It is important that on such historic decisions every citizen should vote directly on an issue deciding the country's future."
Under the proposal, 104 long-serving Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners will be released in 4 stages over 9 months.