EU Chides Lieberman Over Call for Palestinian President Abbas to Resign

European Union's Catherine Ashton says Foreign Minister's remarks 'not helpful'; U.S. urges Palestinians, Israel to commit to Quartet peace plan.

The European Union's foreign policy chief on Tuesday chastised Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for complicating the Middle East peace process, a day after he called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resign.

“The reported remarks of Israel's foreign minister ... are regrettably not helpful to create the environment of trust conducive to negotiations," said a spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton.

Ashton, Lieberman June 17, 2011 (AP)

"The EU has consistently called for reconciliation behind President Abbas as an important element for reaching a two-state solution," she added.

The comments came one day before international negotiators are to meet separately with Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem in a bid to launch a fresh round of Middle East peace negotiations.

The talks have stalled for a year, ever since Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a partial moratorium on Israeli construction in its West Bank settlements.

On Monday, Lieberman called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the "greatest obstacle" to regional order, telling reporters in Jerusalem it would be a "blessing" if the Palestinian leader were to resign.

"If there is one obstacle that should be removed immediately, it is [Abbas]," he said. "If he were to return the keys and resign, it would not be a threat, but a blessing."

Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres on Tuesday lauded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as "serious leaders" intent on bringing an end to the Middle East conflict.

"Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are serious leaders who want peace and are working to prevent violence and extremism in our are," Peres said in a meeting with visiting American actor Jason Alexander.

Also on Tuesday, a top U.S. official addressed planned separate meetings between Quartet envoys and Palestinian and Israeli officials in Jerusalem on Wednesday, saying the sessions would in fact take place despite Palestinian reluctance.

The meetings come following a statement issued by the Quartet on the Middle East on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly last month, meant to push the sides back toward direct peace talks.

Speaking of the planned sessions, U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that the Quartet was hoping "to get is a commitment by both of these parties that they will, after this meeting, move on to the next step that was in the Quartet proposal of September 23rd, namely, that within 90 days they will offer each other concrete proposals on security and territory, which can form the basis for direct negotiation."

"After the Quartet statement came out, we had positive noises. Now we have to take it step by step," Nuland said, adding: "We do have ongoing meetings with these parties. We do want now to work with them on how we get ready for the step that follows, which is within 90 days trading initial ideas on how we can move forward. Obviously, we want them to support the timeline in its entirety. We want to get each of them working on their concrete proposals on security and territories."

Later, Nuland mentioned that the U.S. position on the territories "has not changed. It is not helpful, does not improve the environment. We've been clear about that with the Israelis, and we've been clear about it publicly."