Quartet envoy to Middle East Tony Blair.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A new approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and the Gaza Strip is needed 20 years after Oslo, Quartet envoy Tony Blair said Sunday following his first visit to Gaza in more than five years.
“The last conflict left Gaza devastated and its people worn down and impoverished,” said the former British prime minister. “The problem is not – as is often thought – locking negotiators in a room long enough to make an agreement. At present, you could lock them in such a room for eternity and peace would still not come.”
According to Blair, if the reality on the ground was conducive to peace, “negotiators could find a way through the issues of borders and land swaps, and even Jerusalem, refugees and security guarantees.”
The problem, he wrote in an article posted on his website, is that not only is the ground not ripe for peace, but rather the exact opposite is true. Gaza, he said, “is living proof” of that.
Furthermore, in the West Bank the economy is stalled and “in Jerusalem the tension is palpable and dangerous.”
Blair, who previously visited Gaza only twice in the more than seven years he has served as the Quartet envoy, went through the Erez Crossing and met with members of the Palestinian unity government, local business and community workers, and families and workers at a UN facility for “internally displaced persons.”
He was in Gaza for several hours.
After the visit he wrote that there were three preconditions to a “successful peace process.”
First, he said, there must be a “dramatic and broad improvement” in the daily lives of Palestinians.
Second, there must be “unified Palestinian politics” that “explicitly is in favor of peace and two states, meaning a sovereign State of Palestine and a secure, accepted State of Israel.”
Third, he said, there must be “an enhanced role for the region, in alliance with the international community, which must step up to share leadership of the issue.” He argued that in all the current “darkness” in the diplomatic process there is one potential ray of hope – the changing region.
“As the threat of extremism throws up new risks, it also offers new opportunities for all those who believe in peace to unite in achieving it,” he said. “So we should not give up but re-double our efforts.”
The work, he said, should begin in Gaza, which he labeled “a metaphor for all that is wrong.”
Blair added that Gaza needed to be opened up and reconnected to the world, something that will necessitate a “reconciliation in Palestinian politics. And for reconciliation to happen, we need unity to be on a basis which supports peace.”
Furthermore, he said the international community needs “clarity” from Hamas.
“Are they a Palestinian nationalist movement dedicated to the achievement of a Palestinian State or part of a broader Islamist movement with regional designs that impact governments outside of Gaza? Are they prepared to accept a Palestinian State within 1967 borders or not, with such a state being a final settlement to the conflict?” he asked.
In addition, he said Egypt had to be given “credible guarantees about its own security” in relation to Gaza; the Gaza crossings should be opened so the region can be “reunited with the outside world;” Israel should do all it can to assist in Gaza’s reconstruction; and Egypt should lead the negotiation about the long-term future of Gaza.
“This Gaza plan should be part of a wider agreement after the new government of Israel is established, which should have at its core the dramatic improvement of Palestinian life on the West Bank,” he said. “This, in turn, could pave the way for Palestinian elections and the resumption of a proper negotiation for the resolution of the peace process.”