European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso called on Sunday for a return to Israeli-Palestinian talks, warning the peace process must not become “an orphan of the Arab Spring.”
Barroso was speaking after talks with Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad on the first day of a trip which includes stops in the West Bank and Israel.
“The momentous change that we are witnessing throughout the Arab world should constitute an incitement and not a deterrent to the resumption of negotiations,” he said, according to an advance copy of his remarks.
“The Middle East peace process cannot become an orphan of the Arab Spring.”
Direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since late September 2010, and efforts by the peacemaking Quartet -- which groups the EU, United Nations, United States and Russia -- have had little success.
But Barroso said the European Union considered resolving the conflict a “strategic priority,” and would continue to work to find a way to bring the two sides back to the table.
“Meanwhile it is important that the two parties do not act in a way that undermines the viability of a two-state solution,” Barroso said.
“In this respect it is with concern that we see the continuous growth of settlements in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem.”
Barroso, who will meet later Sunday in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, offered support for the reconciliation process between Abbas’s Fatah party and the rival Hamas movement which rules Gaza.
“This is a key factor contributing to the unity of a future Palestinian state and to reaching the two-state solution,” he said.
And he said that new elections, which are called for under the reconciliation deal signed last year but have been delayed as the two sides bicker over implementation of the agreement, would constitute “a significant contribution to Palestinian state-building.”
“It is important that all Palestinian actors take advantage of the positive developments towards democratization in the region to build a future of democracy, security and prosperity,” his prepared remarks said.
Later Sunday, Barroso is scheduled to tour Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and old city, which were recently added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list over objections from Israel.
And on Monday, he will meet with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.
Their talks are expected to focus on the peace process but also efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program, which Israel says poses an existential threat to the Jewish state.
EU officials said Barroso will also discuss ongoing violence in Syria, where an uprising has been met with brutal repression and where observers fear the unfolding of a civil war, with both Israel and the Palestinians.