Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tony Blair's take on the Peace Process

Tony Blair, who became a special envoy to Israel/OPT for the Quartet on the day he resigned as British Prime Minister, blathers about the Middle East situation in a Guardian Q-A this weekend. He's been in the job for less than a year and only spends a few days a month in the region. (Mostly cosseted in the American Colony Hotel.) Blair plans to head for Yale University this autumn to teach a class in Religion and the Globalized World. (There is speculation that George W Bush, an ardent admirer of the Rottweiler Pope Benedict, may follow his poodle and soon covert to ROMAN CATHOLICISM!)

Tony sez:

"In my view the whole problem with the peace process up to now has been that people have thought you construct the deal and the facts on the ground will change. My view is that it is as much [that] you have to change the reality on the ground to create the space for the political deal to work.

"People say to me 'Well we have had all these agreements in the past' [but] Oslo was not an agreement, it was agreement to have an agreement. In my view you could work out the right problem on territory, refugees and Jerusalem but you cannot get a deal when the Israelis feel they have a massive unanswered security challenge and the Palestinians feel the weight of the occupation to change the two realities the two sides have.

"Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness [were] people that came from a past that was about the armed struggle [in Northern Ireland], but who had real vision imagination and leadership to make the transition. The question is how do you create the circumstances for that leadership to be successful in the Palestinian context. If the moderates show leadership, they will be strengthened. If they cannot they won't.

"In the Middle East at the moment the issue is not whether people are talking to Hamas or not, because the Egyptians already are. I hope we can get a different strategy for Gaza so that as we get a ceasefire, we are [also] progressively reopening the crossings, allowing in not just humanitarian aid but also goods and services - that would be a step forward.

"The issue is not a failure of communication. In the Northern Ireland situation it is true there were all sorts of informal contacts with the IRA but proper talking began only when there was a ceasefire. I have been very clear about what has to happen to ease the restrictions on the lives of Palestinians on the West Bank, but it does not help the cause of peace when we are trying to pressure the Israelis to let fuel in and extremists come from Gaza and kill the Israelis bringing the fuel in. If the terrorism stopped the whole situation would be so much easier to resolve.

"Their purpose is to destroy and disrupt the peace process in my view the best response to that is to go ahead with the peace process. Let us not be foolish about it - it is a deliberate act of strategy to inflict trauma by putting rockets into the town aimed deliberately and indiscriminately at civilians.

"My strategy is not to do the economic at the expense of politics but it is to accept that unless you deal the facts on the grounds - insufficient security capability on behalf of the Palestinians and the weight of the occupation on the Palestinians, then you will not create the space for politics to work. The tracks have got to work alongside one side another.

"The package I agreed with the Israelis gives us the opportunity radically to change some of the facts on the ground - reducing or speeding some of the 20 or so strategic roadblocks. If you don't start somewhere, you will get nowhere. There may well be a role for independent and international support for security at a later time, but it will not be now."

The Middle East and the end of the Bush administration

"In the last year there has been intensification of focus. Condi Rice has made many many visits, President Bush himself has been twice. There is no doubt at all that there is a big engagement by the Americans on this. I still think progress is going to happen even under the remaining part of this presidency. What is really important for the next president is that this does not go to the bottom of the intray. It's fundamental to what is going on in the whole Middle East. This is a region in transition, there is massive potential for it to go right and [also] for it to go badly wrong.

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