Ahead of a planned trip to the Middle East, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Friday that he was hopeful about a possible resolution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. "This is an opportunity for us if we are prepared to seize it now," Blair declared in an interview to The Washington Post, and added that "sensible Arab and Muslim countries," such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, recognized the strategic benefits for the region in brokering a viable peace initiative. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Blair said, could open the door to a solution to the war in Iraq. "Israel-Palestine is the one issue that, unresolved, allows extremists to gain purchase on the more moderate elements of the Muslim and Arab world," the outgoing prime minister asserted. Blair expressed his concern over Iran's backing of extremist elements like Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, Hizbullah in Lebanon, and Shi'ite militias in Iraq, arguing that Iran had become a "divisive force." Blair, who will step down next September, called the upcoming months a crucial period for the region, and said that he was worried not only by increasing political instability among the Palestinians, but also by ever-worsening "poverty and despair." "So we either decide that we are going to take this moment and use it to drive forward, or obviously there's a danger that the whole region takes a wrong turn," he said. There is general agreement in the world that a two-state solution is the best compromise, Blair contended, but said that proposals tend to get bogged down on smaller issues, such as the future status of Jerusalem and right of return for Palestinian refugees. "I believe totally in supporting Israel's security," Blair said. "But the truth is the ultimate security lies in a viable and democratic Palestinian state and in resolving the issues with Israel's neighbors."