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Blair says Arab Spring ‘offers an opportunity’ to re-launch Mideast talks

Middle East Quartet envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair talks to France 24 in an exclusive interview during his visit to Paris.


Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is visiting Paris in his capacity as Middle East Quartet envoy for talks with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé.

The Quartet on the Middle East - known simply as “the Quartet” - comprises the UN, the United States, Russia and the European Union. It was established in 2002 to mediate the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the Mideast peace talks ground to a halt last year after Israel failed to renew a partial freeze on West Bank settlement constructions, forcing the Palestinians to refuse to return to the negotiating table despite several international attempts to jumpstart the stalled peace talks.

In this exclusive interview with France 24, Blair talks about the need for western nations to once again focus on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the wake of the “Arab Spring” revolts that have spread through the region, providing new opportunities for dialogue and engagement.

On western engagement with the “Arab Spring” revolts:

“Whatever happens in this region is going to impact us profoundly. We have got to be players and not spectators. The biggest risk is not to act when people need us to act.

“It is not a question of the West imposing a plan on the region. But it is a question of us understanding that the region is undergoing a revolution, that it will include political reform, but that it also urgently needs economic and social reform with it.

“It makes sense for us to look at the region as a whole and to see where we can assist with the modernising and democratic forces.

“And the best way to do that is to re-launch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in a way that is credible.”

On reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process:

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the heart of the region and its future. We have got to resolve it. There is no alternative but to resolve it.

“My work in Jerusalem is to do with supporting the Palestinian economy and building the institutions for a future Palestinian state.

“If there is good news it is what the Palestinian Authority has been doing to build those institutions. The economy is reviving in the West Bank, and even in Gaza, which is why it is so important to the financial donors to renew their commitments.

“The Arab Spring offers an opportunity. For Israel, there is a huge strategic interest now in securing peace with the Palestinians.

“The Israelis will be difficult on the question of security. Israel still feels that it is in a situation where it is surrounded by countries that are hostile to it. The problem for Israel it that the points of predictability in the region, such as Egypt, have been replaced by points of unpredictability.

“For Israel, there is a very clear interest. And for the Palestinians, statehood is an objective that is not just about a political campaign, it is existential for them.

“What I learned from Northern Ireland is that you just keep going, because there isn’t an alternative. The alternative to peace is war.”

On the French initiative to hold a Palestinian donor’s conference in a bid to kick-start the peace process:

“France is right to say that you can’t leave a vacuum, and this French initiative is a bid to fill that.

“In the long term, political negotiations will always be handled by the Americans, but the French desire to have these negotiations renewed in a credible way is right.

“It needs to be recognised that the support by Western and Arab countries to the Palestinian Authority is hugely important.”

On the ongoing revolt in Syria and the Damascus regime’s brutal crackdown:

“It’s difficult to engage in the repression of your own people and retain your legitimacy.

“This situation in Syria can’t hold. There needs to be a truly credible process of reform or there will be change.”

On whether the western intervention in Libya is working:

“It’s working in the sense that if we hadn’t intervened a large number of people would have been killed.

“It would have been unthinkable for us to stand by and do nothing.”

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