European Commission Chief: Resume Peace Talks

European Commission chief Barroso meets Abbas, calls to return to peace talks. Abbas, meanwhile, reiterates preconditions.

Elad Benari ,

Abbas meets Barroso in Ramallah
Abbas meets Barroso in Ramallah

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso called on Sunday for a return to talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, warning the peace process must not become “an orphan of the Arab Spring.”

AFP quoted Barroso as having made the remarks during a trip to Ramallah, where he met PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

“The momentous change that we are witnessing throughout the Arab world should constitute an incitement and not a deterrent to the resumption of negotiations,” Barroso said after meeting Fayyad, according to an advance copy of his remarks.

“The Middle East peace process cannot become an orphan of the Arab Spring,” he added.

Barroso urged continued peacemaking efforts and said it was “important that the two parties do not act in a way that undermines the viability of a two-state solution.”

“In this respect it is with concern that we see the continuous growth of settlements in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria –ed.], including east Jerusalem.”

AFP noted that on Sunday evening, Barroso met with Abbas for talks that also focused on the peace process.

The report added that in comments to the press after the meeting, Abbas repeated his usual preconditions: that Israel accept the indefensible pre-1967 lines as final borders, release all Arab terrorists from its jails, and halt construction in Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem before talks begin.

AFP quoted Abbas as having claimed that releasing the prisoners could lead to a "dialogue" that would fall short of negotiations.

“We know that we cannot reach a solution outside of the framework of negotiations,” he said.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held what she called “productive” talks in Paris with Abbas.

Clinton said the two "discussed how to build on his exchange of letters" with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

AFP reported that Barroso's talks with Fayyad and Abbas on Sunday also touched on a burgeoning financial crisis that has left the PA unable to pay salaries.

Fayyad was quoted as having said that the current fiscal crunch "is serious, very serious. It's in the running for the worst financial crisis" faced by the PA.

The shortfall is the result of a gap between pledged and delivered donor funds, with Arab nations in particular failing to transfer promised money.

Abbas said he discussed the "difficult economic and financial situation" with Barroso, but stopped short of saying whether he had asked the EU to stump up additional funds.

Barroso is scheduled to meet on Monday with Israeli officials, including Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Their talks are expected to focus on the peace process but also efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program.