LONDON, (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Barack Obama must make the Middle East peace process an urgent priority, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Monday.
The outgoing Bush administration had wanted an agreement on Palestinian statehood by the end of this year, but a lack of progress has left hopes pinned on a fresh approach from Obama when he takes office in January.
“The 22 Arab states calling on President-elect Obama to prioritise achieving a comprehensive plan is a very important development indeed,” Brown told reporters after talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. “We are very much of the same view… We are working hard to ensure that progress is possible during 2009.”
The 22-member Arab League wrote to Obama about the issue last week, and the quartet of Middle East peace negotiators — the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia — is due to meet at the United Nations on Monday.
Brown, who is scheduled to hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday, repeated his call for the withdrawal of Israeli settlements from occupied land and a freeze on settlement expansion.
“Everybody now sees the contours of what a two-state solution would look like … One of the blockages to that is clearly the settlement issue,” Brown said.
“I hope in the coming days we can move further and faster towards the peace settlement that everyone wants to see happen.”
Olmert, who will remain as interim prime minister until a new election is held on Feb. 10, has tried to clamp down on illegal settlement outposts, but around 300,000 Israeli settlers remain among 3 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
Fayyad, whose Western-backed government is based in the West Bank, said his administration was making every effort to heal its rift with Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement which controls the Gaza Strip and is expanding in the West Bank. “Everything that can be done should be done in order to reunite the country,” he said. “It is an absolute requirement for there to be reunification of our country for there to be reconciliation.”
Attempts by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to reunite the factions in the West Bank and Gaza and form a unity government have failed despite more than two years of talks.