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(photo credit: AP)
Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair said that he knew a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be extremely difficult, but he vowed not to give up and that he would keep shuttling to the Middle East for "as long as it takes."
"I don't give up on these things," Blair said in an interview with Time Magazine. "I also think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of fundamental importance to the whole struggle going on in the Islamic world. That isn't to say that its cause is the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, but its resolution would be a major part to solving it. If this thing could be put on a better and different path, it would change the whole dynamic within Islam."
The Quartet envoy maintained that such a resolution would empower the moderates, saying that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, far more than the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, allowed the extremists to "reach across into moderate opinion."
Blair insisted that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wanted to build a Palestinian state from the bottom up.
"Netanyahu is really clear that he wants economic and security change on the West Bank," said the former British prime minister. "That's what we agreed we'd work on with him. There are one or two things that [Netanyahu's] term 'economic peace' can mean.
One, that economic development is a substitute for state, and that's obviously not acceptable. I personally think he wants the second, to build the [Palestinian] state from the bottom up. I understand and buy into that. It's important for the Israeli government to come out and say we want a two-state solution, but the circumstances have got to be right."
Although admitting that his job as peace envoy got a lot tougher after the recent IDF operation in Gaza, Blair remained upbeat.
"We need three elements: a credible political negotiation for a two-state solution; a program of major change on the West Bank, and an easing of the blockade in Gaza. If we get those, we'll be back in business again," he said.
He said that following a six-month hiatus due to government changes in Israel and America, as well as "problems" on the Palestinian side, the next couple of months would determine "if we can breathe new life" back into the peace process.
The Quartet envoy condemned Hamas violence and rocket fire, saying that the attacks made it very hard for the international community to put money into the Palestinian government.
He said the rocket fire at innocent Israeli civilians wasn't just "morally wrong," but also "tactically useless."
"At no level is it sensible. I'm all for Hamas coming into this process, but only on a basis that we can deal with. Otherwise, we're put in an impossible situation in which we're tacitly supporting activities that are geared to violent resistance," he said.
Blair said that were Hamas to declare that it was pursuing its political objectives by nonviolent means, the group would "liberate the international community to say there's now got to be a solution."
The Quartet envoy went on to call for the "necessary" humanitarian aid to Gazans.
"I'd like to see humanitarian help in its broadest sense going in - that's not just food and fuel but also help in rebuilding infrastructure and houses," he told Time. "The Israelis obviously are concerned about anything that might have a security implication. But we have to distinguish between what is a security risk [for the Israelis] and, as it were, a decision that while Gaza remains under Hamas control, that even necessary help for rebuilding infrastructure will be denied."
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