(photo credit: REUTERS)
Regional normalization steps, alongside a regional peace process based on the Saudi initiative, could bring about the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, former Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair said in London.
“This gives us a better opportunity to resolve this issue than anything else since the creation of the State of Israel,” said Blair at an event hosted by Prospect Magazine on Tuesday.
He promoted the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offered Israel normalized relations with the Arab world in exchange for a withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and a resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that an updated initiative which “addresses our concerns merits further discussion.
Israel will always seek peace.”
The tweet is just one of many comments Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have made about the importance of a regional process and the role that Arab neighbors can play in any initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi this month pledged to help Israelis and Palestinians take historic steps for peace.
“The Arab Peace Initiative assumed that you would have a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians and then there would be a process of normalization,” Blair said.
“Provided that Israel and the Israeli government were prepared to commit to a discussion around the Arab peace initiative, as the context in which this negotiation took place, then it would be possible, I think, to have some steps of normalization along the way to give confidence,” he said.
“With the new leadership in the region today, I think that is possible to do,” Blair said.
But he warned it would depend first on how Israel responds to Sisi’s offer and to the Arab Peace Initiative.
Blair said he is working with Israel and other regional governments to promote the peace process. An Arab, Israeli and Palestinian peace process “is the single best opportunity for peace,” he said.
Internal Israeli and Palestinian politics make it difficult for either government to conduct a peace process he said.
“People always think with the Israeli- Palestinian issue [that] we should just lock them in a room together.
And if you lock them in a room long enough they will come out with a peace agreement,” said Blair.
“You have a gulf of trust and credibility on both sides, and the only way you can bridge that, is to build from the bottom up as well as from the top down,” Blair said.
Although he has learned that there is a limit to the importance of easing conditions on the ground and economic prosperity to the peace process, “If the politics are not right, the economics won’t work,” he said.
The political support base for a peace process must also be broadened, said Blair, who added that this is where the region has a role to play.
“There are common strategic interests between the Israelis and the Palestinian leadership and the Arab countries,” he said.
While the US involvement is critical, regional support is also necessary, Blair said. The bond created by the common threats in the Middle East presents an opportunity for this to occur, he said.
These two main threats are Iran and Sunni extremism, from the Muslim Brotherhood to ISIS, he said.
“In a situation of chaos and turmoil can come opportunity,” he said, adding that a peace process can be built on the idea of common strategic interests.
Israelis believe they can have a relationship with their Arab neighbors based on common strategic interests, while leaving the Palestinian issue to the side, Blair said, but this will never work.
“The Palestinian issues remain of fundamental importance despite all the other things happening in the region,” he said.