MUNICH (Reuters) - Israel and the Palestinians should recognise the security risk posed by the turmoil in Egypt and urgently speed up peace efforts, the Quartet of Middle East peace brokers said on Saturday.
The United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States said further delays in resuming Israeli-Palestinian talks would be “detrimental to prospects for regional peace and security.”
“The Quartet emphasised the need for the parties and others concerned to undertake urgently the efforts to expedite Israeli-Palestinian and comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace,” they said in a statement.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton took part in the meeting along with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“The events we have witnessed in the region mean it’s hugely important they make progress in the Middle East peace process,” Ashton told a news conference.
The Quartet agreed it would discuss the “dramatic developments in Egypt and elsewhere in the region” and the implications for the peace process as a matter of high priority.
It reiterated support for concluding the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations by September this year and said the Quartet would meet again in mid-March on the way ahead.
Quartet envoys would seek to meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators before this in Brussels, it said.
Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and most influential country, has been a significant force in efforts to bring about an Israeli-Palestinian deal.
Western governments fear unrest in Egypt could lead to Islamist radicalisation that could threaten Cairo’s role in the peace efforts and even its own 1979 peace agreement with Israel.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians welcomed any meetings of the Quartet but were “demanding a staunch position regarding (Israeli) settlements so that we can go to negotiations.”
“The crisis of the Middle East is linked to the continuation of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories,” he said.
The Quartet statement said the group “regrets” the discontinuation of Israel’s 10-month moratorium on settlement activity.
It also “strongly reaffirms that unilateral actions by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of the negotiations and will not be recognised by the international community” — a reference to campaigns by both sides to set out borders before they have been negotiated.
Israeli officials had no immediate reaction, but on Friday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated a call on Palestinians to enter direct peace talks and announced a series of initiatives to help the civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, in line with Israel’s “bottom-up” strategy of economic and security improvement.
Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair said on Friday Israel had also agreed in principle to cede to the Palestinian Authority security control over seven West Bank towns and to help improve the Palestinian infrastructure in East Jerusalem.
Blair emphasised that agreements were not the same as implementation, but in the past two years there had been significant economic growth in the West Bank thanks to actions both by the Palestinians and the Israelis.
He said a combination of progress in improving peoples lives and strong political negotiation was needed for peace and this was even more true given uncertainty in the region.
Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah