Britain warned on Tuesday of a risk that the Middle East peace process could fall victim to the unrest sweeping the region if Israel and the Palestinians don't return quickly to stalled talks.
Foreign Secretary William Hague met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in London and demanded both sides resume discussions and seek a breakthrough on a permanent peace deal before the end of the year.
Hague said turmoil shaking the region had heightened the risk of conflict and could embolden those who favored violence. At the same time, continued Israeli settlement building and the ongoing isolation of Gaza would continue to reduce prospects for peace, he said.
"The British government's message today is that the peace process cannot become a casualty of uncertainty in the region," Hague told a news conference. "It is too important to be allowed to fail or falter."
He said uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa called "for extraordinary efforts from the international community, for radically different thinking about the region, and for bold leadership from governments within it."
"We call on Israel and Palestinian leaders to seize the moment for a historic peace agreement, to match the historic changes in the region," Hague said.
'Ballot boxes to speak for themselves'
Abbas said he was committed to achieving peace, but stressed Israeli settlement activity must be frozen. He also declined to specifically address a question on a deal expected to be put forward by Israel, which will propose establishing a Palestinian state in interim borders.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that plan was taking shape in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Tuesday.
Abbas also demanded that Palestinians are free to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
"We are ready to have legislative and presidential elections and we will leave the ballot boxes to speak for themselves," Abbas told reporters, speaking through a translator.
Abbas' West Bank-based government called the long-delayed elections, but rival Islamic Hamas has said Gaza will not take part in the vote.
"Hamas should not be allowed to stifle the democratic expression of Palestinian opinion," Hague said.
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