Blair calls for rethink of Gaza strategy

Quartet envoy says extremists must be isolated, people helped; warns ME "approaching crunch time."

Blair Brussels 224.88 (photo credit:)
Blair Brussels 224.88
(photo credit: )
Middle East envoy Tony Blair said Tuesday that the international community must rethink its strategy toward Gaza to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in territory. In an appearance before a European Parliament panel, Blair did not call for direct talks with Hamas, which the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist group. But he said it was urgent for more food and other goods to reach Palestinians living under desperate conditions in the Gaza Strip. "If we have learned anything from the past few months it is that the present strategy in Gaza is not working," said Blair. The former British prime minister is now a special envoy for the so-called "Quartet" of Mideast peacemakers, comprised of the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations. "We need a strategy which isolates the extremists and helps the people," he added. "At the moment, if we are not careful, we got the opposite .... That is not intelligent." The former British prime minister also suggested the current peace process - launched at a summit in Annapolis, Maryland, last fall - was starting to run on empty. He said the Middle East was "approaching crunch time," adding there must be visible results by May if there is to be an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by year's end, as planned. "This is a decision-making time about whether people are serious about this process or not," Blair told the panel. The briefing by him, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the French deputy foreign minister, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere followed a December donors conference that generated $7.7 billion for humanitarian assistance and development projects for the Palestinians. Blair said for the peace to become a reality, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators must do better by the time US President George W. Bush visits the region in May. He said peace was possible because both Israelis and Palestinians want to live side by side in peace. However, he added that while the each side wants a two-state solution, neither believes it is going to get it. Israelis see Palestinians as unable to combat terrorism and create security, which in turn leads Israel to maintain its checkpoints and restrict access for Palestinians, he said. Some parliamentarians spoke out against the continuing isolation of Hamas, with whom the EU and the US refuse to negotiate because it has not renounced violence and recognized Israel. "The politics of isolating Hamas has not brought any benefits. You cannot make arrangements with just one part of the other side," said Spanish lawmaker Josep Borrell, former president of the European Parliament who now presides the assembly's development committee. "Israel has to show it really believes the Palestinian state is viable, and everything they do shows that they don't believe it," he said.