Blair: Both Israel, Palestinians want peace

Both Israel, Palestinia

Quartet envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair expressed optimism for peace between Israel and the Palestinians on Sunday, while pushing for negotiations to "get underway as quickly as possible." Speaking to CNN's John King, the former UK prime minister said that there were "many things, positive things, happening on the ground at the moment." He specifically cited growth in the Palestinian economy in the West Bank, as well as the fact that checkpoints were being "opened or removed." "There's a lot of bustle and activity on the West Bank and in Gaza," he noted. Blair also expressed hope that a deal to secure the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit could be signed, in order to open Gaza "to the outside world." He said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was "genuine and serious in wanting negotiations [with the Palestinians] to start." On the Palestinian side, he said, people "need to know that negotiations are going to be credible," and that they will "genuinely lead to the two-state solution." Blair also lauded the Palestinian Authority's work in "greatly improving" the security situation in the West Bank. Both the Israeli and Palestinian governments, Blair went on, have "one great source of strength… The majority of people, both Israelis and Palestinians, want to see a two-state solution." He reiterated his call for a prompt resumption of talks, saying, "The next month will be completely critical, fundamental to this, because if we can't get negotiations going that are credible, then the vacuum that is created will suit no one but the extremists." When asked about diplomatic involvement from the United States, Blair called US Mideast envoy George Mitchell "One of the most skilled and strategic negotiators I've ever come across," having worked closely with him during the Northern Ireland peace process. Blair also mentioned US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who he said were "completely committed" to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.