The 22-country Arab League will send envoys on a historic first mission to Israel this week to discuss a sweeping Arab peace initiative and how it might prop up embattled Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel's Foreign Ministry has said.
The announcement came on Sunday, the same day Israel's Cabinet approved the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners in a bid to bolster Abbas in his power struggle with the Islamic militant Hamas.
An official League visit would be a diplomatic coup for Israel. The League historically has been hostile towards the Jewish state, but has grown increasingly conciliatory given the expanding influence of Islamic extremists in the region - a concern underscored by Hamas' violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last month.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan would lead an Arab League mission to Israel "within a few days" to discuss the Arab peace plan, which would trade full Arab recognition of Israel for an Israeli withdrawal from all lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war and the creation of a Palestinian state.
"This is the first time the Arab League is coming to Israel," Regev said. "From its inception the Arab League has been hostile to Israel. It will be the first time we'll be flying the Arab League flag."
Government spokesman David Baker said no date had been set for the meeting. But Israel's Maariv daily said Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit were expected in Jerusalem Thursday for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defence Minister Ehud Barak.