BRUSSELS – The EU told Israel on Tuesday that growing instability in the Middle East makes it imperative to resume the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.
Israel agreed that direct peace talks should resume, but said the pro-democracy unrest in Arab nations such as Libya, Egypt and Tunisia is unrelated to the Israel-Palestinian situation.
Hungary's Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, whose country currently chairs the EU, said: "These are core issues. They are the heart of the matter. We all have to understand that time is pressing." He said, "The dramatic changes and regional instability which results from them, make the progress on the peace process more imperative and more urgent than ever before."
Martonyi was speaking at a press conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is holding talks with the European Union as part of a decade-old association agreement.
Lieberman said it is important to resume direct peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. But he said "poverty and misery" are the main reasons for the unrest in Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and that there is no link between that turmoil and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Palestinians insist they will not resume talks with Israel until it halts settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed just weeks after they restarted in September because Israel ended a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction.
As Lieberman entered the press room in Brussels on Tuesday, an unidentified protester stood in front of him and said he wanted to perform a citizens arrest, shouting that Lieberman should stand trial for war crimes. The demonstrator was quickly ushered out of the press room by security personnel.
Relations between the EU and Israel have been uneasy since Israel's war in Gaza in early 2009, when the bloc froze a proposed upgrade of its relations with Israel.
The 27-nation EU has repeatedly condemned as illegal the building of Israeli settlements in occupied territory, especially in the eastern parts of Jerusalem.
Last week, all four EU members of the U.N. Security Council — France, Britain, Portugal and Germany — backed a Palestinian resolution denouncing the settlements as illegal. Washington vetoed the measure.
The EU also has demanded that Israel go beyond its recent easing of its Gaza blockade and guarantee the "unconditional" opening of the border into the territory, which is run by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group.