The ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should “jolt” Israelis and Palestinians to get round the negotiating table in a renewed bid to find a Middle East peace settlement, Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.
Mr Hague acknowledged that events in Egypt and Tunisia, where President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has also been forced out in a popular uprising, could complicate the search for a peace deal.
However, he warned that time is running out for an agreement based on a two-state solution as Israeli settlements continue to encroach into occupied Palestinian territories.
Israel in particular had seen Mr Mubarak as a stabilising force in the region, acting as the guarantor for the past 30 years of the historic Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
A spokesman for the Armed Forces Supreme Council, which has taken power in Cairo following Mr Mubarak’s dramatic resignation, said that they will continue to honour Egypt’s international obligations.
Appearing on state television, he said that the military is “looking forward to a peaceful transition, for a free democratic system, to permit an elected civil authority to be in charge of the country, to build a democratic free nation”.
Mr Hague insisted that the Israelis should not fear the rise of democracy in the Arab world and he called on them to join the Palestinians in a return to the direct talks which broke off last September.
“What we should be afraid of here is not democracy but uncertainty and instability that can make national leaders more cautious and say that we are only going to deal with one thing at a time,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“Perhaps one of the good things that might come from events in Egypt and Tunisia is that policymakers in Israel and among Palestinians will be jolted to see that it is vital now to take this forward because in a few years’ time a two-state solution will be much, much more difficult to achieve.
“There is some life in it but it is on life support and it will not live for many more years. The Israelis are making settlements in occupied territory steadily changing the nature of the area and there is a growing weariness about the whole approach to the two-state solution. But it is still very much the best solution.”