The “Quartet” of Mideast peacemakers appealed Wednesday for Israel and the Palestinians to take confidence-building steps to improve the atmosphere for negotiations, as top Israeli and Palestinian officials prepared to meet for the first time 18 months.

Meeting in Washington on Wednesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also called for the international community to help the Palestinians meet their budget needs.

In a statement, they expressed concern about the “increasing fragility” of the Palestinian Authority, which needs $1.1 billion in financial aid, and called on the two sides to work together to improve Palestinian governance and expand economic opportunities for the Palestinian people.

Israel welcomed the Quartet’s call for direct talks without preconditions between Israel and the Palestinians, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Wednesday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is scheduled to meet his Palestinian counterpart, Salam Fayyad, next Tuesday, said he will propose to upgrade the level of the talks to direct and speak directly with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the statement.

The Quartet urged both Israel and the Palestinians to refrain from actions that could undermine trust and peace prospects. Instead it urged them to “focus on positive efforts that can strengthen and improve the climate for a resumption of direct negotiations.”

The Quartet condemned rocket attacks on Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. And, the group “expressed concern about unilateral and provocative actions by either party, including continued settlement activity, which cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations, the only way to a just and durable solution to the conflict.”

Peace talks broke down in 2010 and, despite low-level contacts between the two sides in Jordan in January, have not resumed.

The meeting between Netanyahu and Fayyad next week will be the highest level talks between the sides in a year and a half.

The Palestinians say they will not resume negotiations while Israel continues to build settlements on occupied land that the Palestinians claim for a future state.

Officials do not expect any breakthroughs at next Tuesday’s meeting. Palestinian officials said Fayyad will present a letter asking to resume peace talks based on several conditions Netanyahu has rejected in the past, including a full settlement freeze.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.