Comment at end
20th July 2010
Blair: “…each side has its own reality. For the Israelis it’s security and for Palestinians it’s occupation.”
Ma’an News – Blair: Direct talks to boost confidence
Ramallah – Ma’an – Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair believes political efforts can serve as confidence-building measures to convince Palestinians that negotiations are serious.
The commencement of direct talks would give the international community the tangible guarantees it needs to ensure that negotiations will be fruitful, the former British prime minister told Ma’an in Ramallah over the weekend.
Applauding the efforts of Palestinian leaders to achieve stability in the West Bank, Blair said the international community supported the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and that he backs a resumption of the EU’s 2005 Border Assistance Mission for Gaza’s Rafah crossing.
Ma’an: We’re seeing increased movement in Ramallah, two visits by the American envoy to the Mideast, George Mitchell, and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton. Is this new?
Blair: We’re trying to take steps in the coming weeks that will encourage negotiations toward a two-state solution. Thus, all all of these efforts are aimed at building credibility, which will push negotiations forward. The Palestinians, however, must be confident that these talks are serious and not just for the sake of talks.
Ma’an: It’s clear that there are basic requirements for entering into serious negotiations, such as stopping settlement activity and setting a clear and specific timetable. What’s your position?
Blair: I think the very criteria we use to bridge that gap are those which would give Palestinians the confidence that these negotiations are serious rather than an endless process of talks leading to nowhere. This is what we’re hoping for; standards that assure the Palestinians that the negotiations are serious and will lead to a Palestinian state.
Ma’an: Palestinians think these efforts are all about the shape of negotiations rather than the content. What do you say to that?
Blair: I think the Palestinians are more interested in the content, but the Israelis are saying they won’t discuss the content until the Palestinians agree to start direct negotiations. This is what we’ll try to work out, and I think there are means to address this issue because we know that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is interested foremost in the credibility of negotiations. This is his chief concern, but he seems to have decided to go ahead with negotiations. The question is whether he’s going to find that the Israelis are serious, and whether the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is sincere. This is the issue.
Ma’an: What do you think?
Blair: I think we need to boost the Palestinians’ confidence in direct negotiations. I remember this issue coming up in Northern Ireland, that each side tended to come to me complaining that the other side wasn’t being genuine. And I told them that there was a way to measure that seriousness, and that is to engage in direct negotiations.
Ma’an: From your experience in the region, do you think the impasse originates in the Palestinian political echelon, or is it a problem deep-rooted amongst the Palestinians and Israelis in general?
Blair: The majority of Palestinians and Israelis are pro-compromise, but each side has its own reality. For the Israelis it’s security and for Palestinians it’s occupation. In my opinion, the Palestinian and Israeli political echelon should mutually address these final-status, permanent issues. We need to develop the economic and security infrastructure to end the occupation step by step. I think that despite everything that has happened in the past decade, there is still a majority on both sides who want peace.
Ma’an: Is the solution based predominantly on security concerns? It’s a broad concept. One person can change the entire outcome.
Blair: The important thing on the Palestinian side is that in the past three years, thanks to the efforts of the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and President Mahmoud Abbas, they have started to take security into their own hands. Of course, there is no security system to prevent any bad person from doing something bad, but what you can do is provide a security system that the people trust. I have visited Jenin, Nablus, Hebron, Jericho, and Qalqilya. Three years ago, I couldn’t do that. Now the Palestinians provide their own security, and they can continue to build a law-enforcement system that includes courts, prisons, and other things which will increase the confidence in Israel that a Palestinian state will be managed under the rule of law. They have taken giant steps forward.
Ma’an: What’s your take of the level of trust between both sides?
Blair: I think the situation on the ground is better, and I see the importance of confidence-building measures. The Israelis, and the Palestinians, both sides, have to return to talks knowing that the situation in the West Bank is better than it was a few years ago. In Gaza, there is a need for more action. Those efforts necessitate a return to negotiations.
Ma’an: What’s your position on safe passage, ensuring the freedom of movement of people and vehicles between the West Bank and Gaza? Israel has increased new measures, and the Palestinians argue that they’re quite complex.
Blair: First of all, there will be only one Palestine — the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — which necessitates the need for a corridor. Secondly, the situation in Gaza is improving gradually due to the measures that were agreed upon. But we need to get back to where we were in 2005, and this requires some sort of agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Ma’an: If we return to direct negotiations, are you ready to give assurances that these talks will see results in a specific timetable?
Blair: I think we can give assurances that these negotiations are ongoing, and the international community wants to see results. I expect that as long as negotiations begin, the two parties can negotiate the important final-status issues.
Ma’an: Perhaps the best way to make sure is to pressure the party that stalls negotiations?
Blair: I don’t see that as necessary, telling the parties to leave until they’re ready to sign an agreement, but we are closely following the progress of the negotiations to ensure that they are serious. We should make every effort to support the parties reaching an agreement themselves. I’d prefer that there be a daily follow-up on the process and everything going on that may influence those negotiations.
Ma’an: We’re looking at 15 years of failed negotiations.
Blair: True, but we now have an environment where at least negotiations can be meaningful. And state-building is not just about territory. It’s also capacity-building, management, policy. It is my personal opinion that if we move toward direct negotiations, we’ll succeed.
Ma’an: Are you happy here? Will you stay?
Blair: I am happy here. I think we’re better off than we were three years ago. I see my presence here as positive and the best I can do to establish a Palestinian state.
Ma’an: Have you changed since leaving office?
Blair: My beliefs haven’t changed, nor has my faith. My understanding of things has changed.
1. Follow Tony Blair on Twitter
2. Blair welcomes shekels into Gaza – The Office of the Quartet Representative welcomes Israel’s decision to allow the entry of 50 million shekels into Gaza as well as the exchange of 31.5 million shekels of spoiled bank notes as a first step towards alleviating the liquidity crisis in shekel currency in Gaza.
3. With a blast at the USA the former EU Commisioner, Brtitish Conservative Chris Patten describes Quartet as “quartet sans trois.”
The former EU chief said he agreed with Arab League chief Amr Moussa’s description of the Middle East quartet, which consists of the US, UN, EU and Russia, as the “quartet sans trois.” The EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has also called recently for an end to the blockade, as has the UN.
And from the other quarter? Russia?
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A recent comment from an Albanian, Mr Leonard Dedej from Tirana – “It takes big leaders to make the hardest turns in peoples life…mr Blair is a big leader and a great man for millions of people in Balkans!!!for stopping a savage war!about Iraq I believe that the press wherever it is has not the right to judge on this issue because it simply is to small to judge!!history will judge mr Blair!as long as it is an ongoing war no one can blame mr Blair,after all he started something for a big reason..the press its often wrong because it fights for audience!!!”