Comment at end
UPDATE 23rd March 2010: Questions to Blair
21st March 2010
Israel, Palestine – Peacemaking through Development?
Vice Chair of DEVE Committee invites Tony Blair to EP
Interview follows with Corina Cretu MEP, Vice Chairwoman of the European Parliament Committee on Development, who has invited Mr Blair to speak
Tony Blair speaking in his role as the Quartet’s special envoy on the Middle East, for the first time he will be speaking at the hearing organised by Corina Cretu MEP in the Development Committee on 22 March
One of the last times that Tony Blair
, the then Prime Minister
of the United Kingdom, spoke to the European Parliament was in the summer of 2005. He talked Europe (it was following a European Council Summit), he talked pro-Europe and he talked ideals.
‘Ideals survive through change. They die through inertia in the face of challenge,’ Blair said. Ideals are innately unbreakable we gather and his opinions are ones that the whole world knows he doesn’t bend on.
In her work in the last year as Vice Chairwoman of the European Parliament Committee on Development, and in previous years as a fast steady representative
of Romania to the EP and before that as spokeswoman for Romania’s President she has maintained her ideals. Through visits to Israel and Palestine and thanks to her convictions she decided to hold a hearing on how Economic Development can assist Peacemaking in the Israel/Palestine question and the Quartet responded.
She took some time out before the Hearing on 22 March to talk to Alia Papageorgiou on why this was a turning point for the European Parliament and Europe’s presence in peacemaking.
The interview follows:
When was the last time that Tony Blair was in the European Parliament?
In his current position, as envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East, Tony Blair is for the first time in the European Parliament, and it matters. I think his response to the invitation of the Development Commission reflects not only his desire to illustrate a view about the current developments in the area, but also that we should offer some reference points for a better understanding of the needs that the parties have, especially the Palestinian party.
Therefore, I would like to emphasize one fact: our actions are not political, they are meant to be a clarification, to target more development policies in the area and to better define the support mechanisms. In the Palestinian territories, there have been several developments, some positive, but most negative. Some of them have gone practically to annul the European and international donor efforts made for over a decade and a half. We want to see what we can do, mainly because it is public money, and the current state of economic crisis requires a careful management of the financial resources.
Do you feel it is an opportune time to really commence resolving the problem of Israel /Palestine?
The Israeli – Palestinian relations are mostly a history of missed opportunities. I would be very optimistic in this case. What we feel is something else: it is a moment that we must not miss if we want to give peace and reconciliation a chance, when it will come. What I mean is if we do not do something significant for the Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, the extremist positions will prevail. Moreover, in this regard this situation is to the limit. On the other hand, those people should feel that there are alternatives to what is happening now, that they may depend on their own will to escape poverty and to solve their problems. Economic autonomy and decision-making autonomy, brings a reduction of dependence on certain extremist structures. Resolving this conflict is not for tomorrow, and if the old humiliations and frustrations will add new ones, it is hard to believe that the situation will ever reach lasting peace.
You yourself have visited Israel and the area how do you view the situation?
Yes, I have recently visited Israel, and I understand the fears and the security needs of both parties. They are legitimate. Neither Israel is happy to see that funds that may be spent for other sectors are used to ensure safety. However, it enters a sort of vicious circle, when things start to escalate. Someone has to break this cycle and give a signal of good faith to the other party. Moreover, I believe that peace in the region, beyond all other considerations, needs a strong economic stimulus. Therefore, the return of Palestinian products on the Israeli market and a greater number of Palestinians who can work in Israel would do more than any more or less direct discussion. Rebuilding trust, recently talked about Vice-President Joe Biden
can begin with economic cooperation and with the economic activity stimulation in the territories.
Is economic development and trade the answer?
I think that economic development and trade, without being the answer to all mutual problems, is a strong and appropriate response, and especially a tangible one, which can persuade and may pave more slippery issues.
Could this be a time to really push the situation into some resolution? Into action?
I do not think a resolution more or less counts in the eyes of the parties. Let us be realistic: there have been many papers that were full of good intentions, that remained unnoticed, that did not impress anyone. Only facts matter, and among them, those that can change people’s lives for the better will be the most convincing. At our Monday meeting, we have people involved who know better what are the needs and the expectations of people and who can offer a hierarchy of priorities for a fairer allocation of resources in the area. Sustainable development is a long-term process that requires resources, financial and human resources, continuity and cooperation of institutional and informal participants, citizens, and civil society. We want to make their joint action possible, we want to offer our expertise and facilitate their access to decision-makers in Brussels.
What do you see as the European stance on the Israel/Palestine issue?
The position of the European decision makers’ is principled and consistent. Although I would not want to go into the analysis of purely political positions, and this not because I avoid a direct answer, but because I want the Commission’s approach to development not to turn into a political confrontation between the two parties I can not fail to note that, with the Americans, the Europeans make clear to the two parties that they do not have time; it is time to stop looking for excuses to delay finding a negotiated solution. Therefore, I would also call a pretext the Israeli announcement about the construction of new housing colonies in the Palestinian territories, this time in Jerusalem. I think that without disregarding the principle position, the freezing of all settlements, dialogue must take place, because otherwise any pretext will be used to block them. I know that no internal political situation in Israel is quite clear, that there is a pressure from some extremist trends. However, postponing a solution is expensive, as I have said, for everyone.
How would you characterize what has been going on in Gaza? How do you solve a humanitarian problem like aid in the region?
Humanitarian aspects of the situation in Gaza are the most urgent, and must be treated with priority. Since the conflict in early 2009 many hospitals, schools, houses, water networks, electricity, sewage, were destroyed or badly damaged. Their reconstruction must be our primary concern. Nevertheless, I do not want anything to happen after a Romanian recipe, which many Israelis of Romanian origin know too well: “Who makes and breaks has always something to do”. These facilities cannot be destroyed and rebuilt at infinity, as no human patience is infinite.
How do you see the hearing assisting this problem?
I hope that the Monday action is just the beginning of a process of collaboration between the Development Committee, the Parliament and the stakeholders to start a process of sustainable development of the area to re-launch the Palestinian economy, which alone can lead to an effective reduction of chronic poverty in the area.
is a Romanian Member of the European Parliament, she is a Member of the S&D Group, Vice Chairwoman of the Development Committee, a member of the Special Committee on the Financial, Economic and Social Crisis, and the Delegation for relations with the United States
Tags: Alia Papageorgiou, Corina Cretu MEP, DEVE, economic development, Gaza, Interview, Middle East, Palestine territories, Romanian MEP, Tony Blair at EU parliament