The European Union's president 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.
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"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.
Van Rompuy repeated the EU's position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, under which a negotiated resolution would be based on Israel's 1967 borders with mutually acceptable land swaps.
The EU is also "fully supporting financially" the Palestinian state-building process, Van Rompuy added.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas arrived at the UN General Assembly this week with plans to submit a bid for full UN membership as a state, which is supported by many UN member countries but fiercely opposed by Israel.
European and US diplomats have been scrambling to avert a showdown over the Palestinians' membership bid.