The President of the Council of the European Union has urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume direct talks in an address to the United Nations on Thursday on the eve of a Palestinian bid for UN state membership.
"Now, the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the top priority," EU President Herman Van Rompuy said in his address to the UN General Assembly.
As a member of the Quartet seeking a negotiated resolution of the Middle East conflict -- alongside the UN, the United States and Russia -- the European Union is deeply engaged in the peace process, he said.
Van Rompuy did not mention the proposal offered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy the previous day as a way to head off the diplomatic crisis caused by the Palestinians' UN bid.
Under Sarkozy's plan, the Palestinians would be given an intermediate observer status at the United Nations, while the two sides would return to negotiations and have one year to reach a definitive agreement.
"Now is the time for politics: for dialogue and negotiations. Populations have lived in fear and suffering for too long," Van Rompuy said.
"That's why I say to the leaders on both sides: the time to act is now. There are political risks, but you need to take them -- just like some of your predecessors did -- with a view of offering a better and safer future to your communities," Van Rompuy said.
"The status quo is no option. The wind of change across the entire region should help you to get out of impasses," the EU chief added, alluding to the recent wave of uprisings in the Arab world.
“The legitimate aspirations of both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples for peace, safety and statehood must be fulfilled, with an agreement that will lead to the existence of two states living side by side in peace and security – and therefore including Israel's legitimate security needs, and the Palestinians’ desire to end the occupation”.
Van Rompuy repeated the EU's position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The principle of a two states solution was established more than 60 years ago. Only half of it has been implemented. The EU's political position on the Middle East Peace Process is well-established, it includes a reference to the 1967 borders with territorial swaps acceptable to both parties," he said.
“Moreover, the EU is fully supporting financially the state-building process by the Palestinian Authority,” he added.
The European Union is split on the issue of Palestinian state recognition.
European and US diplomats have been scrambling to avert a showdown over the Palestinian bid.
Van Rompuy said that ten years ago after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York "many feared the start of an era of religious hatred, but that has not happened."
In reference to the "Arab Spring," he said that "we witnessed no extremism, not the so-called clash of civilizations, but an episode in the fight for freedom and for justice."
"The people in the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Benghazi and across the Arab world aspired to dignity, jobs, equal opportunities, social justice and democracy."