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Breakthrough? Abbas gets Arab backing to enter Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas won Arab League backing today to enter direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks – a step the US and Israel have been pushing for.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, center and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa attend an Arab foreign ministers meeting at the Arab league headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday.

Nasser Nasser/AP

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Setting the stage for the Palestinians to negotiate directly with Israel, the Arab League agreed in principle today to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas holding face-to-face peace talks with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The decision of the Arab League's forum on Israeli-Palestinian talks is significant because it provides political cover for Mr. Abbas, who has been locked in a battle for legitimacy with Islamists from Hamas who oppose negotiations with Israel.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told Reuters "of course there is agreement'' in the Arab League for direct talks. The statement represents a victory for the Obama administration's effort to lobby the Palestinians for face-to-face negotiations, warning them that without such an agreement the US could not help Palestinians secure an eventual peace deal.

IN PICTURES: Israeli settlements

Arab governments "gave [Abbas] a mandate," says Munther Dajani, a political science professor at Al Quds University. "They gave the legitimacy he needs and the support by saying, 'Go ahead, you are not alone, we support you."

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