Quartet envoy Tony Blair's direct involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can have a "positive impact" on both sides, senior sources in the Prime Minister's Office said Monday, on the eve of Blair's scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Blair arrived in Israel on Monday and immediately held separate meetings with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Vice Premier Haim Ramon and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Diplomatic officials briefed on the content of some of these talks said that Blair realized the sensitivity of his mission and was intent on discussing the issues within his mandate - namely Palestinian governance and building effective PA institutions.
Relating to concerns that have been raised that Blair may want to take a much more active role in mediating the conflict than spelled out in his mandate, the officials said it was clear that at least in the beginning, he wanted to "examine the situation" and had no intention of trying to widen his brief.
The Quartet has charged Blair with concentrating on reform, economic development and institutional capacity building in the PA.
Livni, after meeting with Blair for about 90 minutes, of which all but 15 were in private conversation, said Israel attributed "a great deal of importance" to Blair's mission. "This is a critical point that could create a breakthrough," she said.
"The path to a Palestinian state goes through a Palestinian war on terror and the construction of stable infrastructure for a responsible state that is run by a government that accepts the international community's conditions, a government that can control its own territory and prevent it from turning into a source of danger to Israel," she said.
In an apparent allusion to a debate in some quarters in Europe as to whether Blair can do his job without talking to Hamas, Livni called on the international community to remain firm regarding its policy of isolating Hamas unless it recognizes Israel, forswears terrorism and accepts previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
Ramon reportedly told Blair the time had come to restart the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, and that he was convinced that Olmert would do so in the near future.
Blair is scheduled to meet with Olmert at his residence for dinner on Tuesday night, after the Tisha Be'av fast.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said there was no need for Blair to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians, since the two sides speak to each other directly and frequently. "We do not think that there is any alternative to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," the sources said. "We don't need someone else to talk to the Palestinians for us."
At the same time, the sources said that Israel would not ignore "creative ideas" that Blair, or anyone else, would bring up for discussion.
Blair will also meet separately on Wednesday with Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, as well as with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad in Ramallah.
Blair told his interlocutors on Monday that he wanted this trip to be a low-profile one. The only public statement he is expected to make in Jerusalem will be after meeting Peres.
Before coming to Israel, Blair flew to Jordan and met with Foreign Minister Abdelelah al-Khatib. According to the Jordanian Petra news agency, Khatib reviewed with Blair King Abdullah II's efforts to launch "serious talks between the Palestinians and Israelis to achieve a solution to the Palestinian issue within a reasonable and specific time frame."
Abdullah is currently in Washington, and is scheduled to meet with US President George W. Bush on Tuesday, with one of the main agenda items expected to be Bush's recent call for a regional meeting in the fall.
The regional meeting, meanwhile, was also on the agenda at the monthly meeting of the EU's foreign ministers held in Brussels on Monday. Following the meeting, the foreign ministers issued a statement making clear that they expected the EU, as part of the Quartet, to be present at that meeting.
The second point of the eight-point statement had to do with the settlements, with the foreign ministers saying that settlement activities in and around east Jerusalem as well as in the rest of the West Bank, and the ongoing construction of the security barrier on Palestinian land, "are of particular concern."â€¢
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