U.K. Says 'Time Is Running Out' for Middle East Peace

Earlier, deputy U.K. PM condemned Israeli settlements as 'act of deliberate vandalism' that damages peace process; remarks made during Abbas' visit to Europe.

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U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting in Downing Street on Monday that Britain would do everything in its power to promote Jordanian-backed efforts to re-start the peace process for which time was "running out."

"We think that time, in some ways, is running out for the two-state solution unless we can push forwards now because otherwise the facts on the ground will make it more and more difficult, which is why the settlement issue remains so important," said Cameron.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (R) shakes hands with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (L) before their meeting at his official residence at 10 Downing Street in central London on January 16,Credit: AFP

President Abbas is in the U.K. as part of a three-day European tour, which will also include talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany, and then a visit to Russia.

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, speaking after talks with Abbas, condemned the continued Israeli settlements as an "act of deliberate vandalism" that did "immense damage" to the peace process and "threatened a two-state solution."

His strong words were welcomed by Abbas at a joint news conference. "This is exactly what we wanted to hear officially from the (British) government," said the Palestinian leader.

Due to its "very balanced" relationship with the Middle East, Britain could play an important political role in helping to find a solution," said Abbas. Israel had so far "not put anything on the table" to get the peace process back on track, he added.

Israel criticized Clegg's remarks as "gratuitous bashing."

"It would be much better to contribute to peace by encouraging the fragile revival of Israeli-Palestinian talks rather than engaging in gratuitous bashing," the Press Association news agency quoted Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor as saying.

Clegg, the British Liberal Democrat leader, said that while he was a strong supporter of Israel as a "beacon of democracy in the region," the continued existence of illegal settlements "risks making facts on the ground such that a two-state solution becomes unviable," he said.

"Once you've placed physical facts on the ground that make it impossible to deliver something that everyone has for years agreed is the ultimate destination ... it is an act of deliberate vandalism to the basic premise on which negotiations have taken place for years and years and years," said Clegg.

Abbas, who invited Clegg to visit the West Bank, later also had lunch with William Hague, Britain's Foreign Secretary.

He was also due to meet the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Ed Miliband, and have talks with British parliamentarians.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, confirmed that Abbas would have his first-ever meeting with the head of the Anglican Church in London Tuesday.

A Palestinian spokeswoman said Williams was set to visit the Palestinian territories in the "next couple of months."


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