Israel and the Palestinians appear headed back to negotiations in the hopes of settling long-standing differences.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement in Amman, Jordan Friday, after returning from a trip to Ramallah and a meeting with Palestinian 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. "This is a significant and welcome step forward."
Kerry said some details are still being worked out but that if all goes well, Palestinians and Israeli officials will travel to Washington for initial talks within the next week or two.
VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns was with Kerry in Amman.
“He [Kerry] has kept this entire process very quiet and again said that candid, private conversations are the very best way to give these negotiations a chance,” Stearns said.
Kerry also praised both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas for making some difficult choices.
"The representatives of two proud peoples today have decided that the difficult road ahead is worth traveling," he said.
This is the sixth trip Kerry has made to the Middle East since becoming secretary of state earlier this year. He was originally scheduled to have flown back to the U.S. already. He extended his stay after sensing an agreement to restart talks was within reach.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2010.
The White House says President Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to ask him to work with Kerry to "resume negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible."
Earlier this week, in Jordan, Kerry met with representatives of Arab states that support a comprehensive peace plan. He said many of the Arab League ministers told him "the core issue of instability in this region and in many other parts of the world is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."
Kerry has been urging both Israel and the Palestinians to be cautious and to avoid any actions or statements that might undermine their progress.
VOA's Scott Stearns says Kerry also intends to keep tight control of the proceedings.
“He [Kerry] said that any speculation that anyone would have before that process is finalized would be pure conjecture and not facts," he said. "He said that both sides in this agreement have agreed that he, Secretary Kerry, will be the only one to speak about this until the agreement is made.”
But Kerry said Friday he remains optimistic.
"This is not up to chance. It's up to the Israeli people and the Palestinian people and no one else," he said. "So knowing that the road ahead will be difficult, and the challenges that the parties face will be daunting, we will call on everybody to act in the best of faith and push forward."
Earlier this week, Kerry said the proposed plan aims to show both sides the benefits of peace, and, in particular, the impact some proposals could have on the Palestinian economy. He said programs being considered as part of the plan could reduce unemployment in the Palestinian territory from 21 percent to 8 percent over the next three years while also doubling the GDP [Gross Domestic Product].
VOA's Scott Stearns says, ultimately, for the negotiations to succeed, the sides will have to answer a familiar question.
“The basis of these talks all along has been the 2002 Arab League Peace Initiative, which was modified earlier this year to allow for land swaps to account for Israeli settlements post-1967," he said. "So the detail then would be - is Israel going to be able to keep all of its settlements once that final map is drawn and what will Israel then give up in those land swaps to account for the post-1967 settlements that it will keep.”