William Hague reveals fears for Middle East peace process

The Middle East peace process is in danger of falling victim to the revolutionary tide sweeping the Arab world, the foreign secretary, William Hague, has warned.

Speaking on an emergency tour of the region, Hague also urged Israel to tone down its “belligerent” language in the wake of the uprisings that have spread from Tunisia to Egypt and beyond. Hague said the “scale of any military conflict” between Israel and Hezbollah was growing, and that soon “peace may become impossible”.

The intervention came as the situation in Egypt intensified, with thousands of protesters again on the streets of Cairo demanding President Hosni Mubarak’s immediate departure.

In an interview with the Times en route to Jordan, Hague said: “Amidst the opportunity for countries like Tunisia and Egypt, there is a legitimate fear that the Middle East peace process will lose further momentum and be put to one side, and will be a casualty of uncertainty in the region.”

He added: “Part of the fear is that uncertainty and change will complicate the process still further. That means there is a real urgency for the Israelis and the United States.

“Recent events mean this is an even more urgent priority and that’s a case we are putting to the Israeli Government and in Washington.”

Foreign Secretary William Hague addresses the media during a news conference in Tunis Photograph: Louafi Larbi/Reuters

Hague responded to pronouncements by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been urging his nation to prepare for “any outcome” and vowing to “reinforce the might of the state of Israel”.

“This should not be a time for belligerent language,” the Hague said. “It’s a time to inject greater urgency into the Middle East peace process.”

He added: “The scale of any military conflict that may happen between Israel and Hezbollah is growing, because of the growth of armaments in the area.”

He said Israel’s attitude to settlements was “disappointing”, adding: “Within a few years peace may become impossible.”

Hague had earlier arrived in Tunisia, becoming the first foreign minister to arrive since the revolution last month. He lent support to the transitional government, praising the “inspiring” changes made since the overthrow of President Ben Ali.

Hague said the European Union needed to influence events in the Middle East for the better: “If the EU doesn’t do that, people in this region would conclude that Europe is not able to construct an effective response in its own neighbourhood.”

Despite two weeks of steadfast pressure, Egyptian protesters have not achieved their goal of ousting Mubarak. On Tuesday thousands of civilians – including about 5,000 university professors and teachers – packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square to continue their demonstrations calling for the president’s removal.

In Alexandria, the country’s second largest city, 18,000 people crammed into the main square, while some 3,000 service workers for the Suez canal also demonstrated in Suez city.

Around 8,000 people also chanted anti-Mubarak slogans in the southern city of Assiut.

The beleaguered president has refused to step down, insisting on serving until elections in September.

His regime offered more concessions to the protesters in an attempt to appease them while keeping a grip on power.

The vice-president, Omar Suleiman, who is managing the crisis, offered to set up committees to propose long-sought constitutional amendments and monitor the implementation of all proposed reforms.

Mubarak also ordered an inquiry into last week’s clashes between the protesters and government supporters as well as mass detentions of human rights activists and journalists.

Story from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011

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