No need for aid flotillas, says Blair

Quartet envoy hails Israel’s eased policy on Gaza.

Blair 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Blair 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Anyone thinking of organizing an aid flotilla for Gaza should instead utilize the legitimate existing land crossings, where Israel is now lifting restrictions on civilian goods, Quartet envoy Tony Blair said on Monday.
“If we implement this policy so that the things that people are trying to bring in by flotilla you can bring in through the legitimate existing crossings, do it that way,” Blair urged in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. “That is the more sensible way to do that,” he said, amid reports that one or two ships may seek to sail from Lebanon to challenge the naval blockade in the next few days.
UNRWA wants full blockade lift‘Yes to coriander, no to Kassams’
Blair, who played a central role in working with the government to reverse the three-year policy of restricting civilian goods entering Gaza, emphatically endorsed the Israeli security concerns that underpin the ongoing naval blockade.
“Where I divide from some others in the international community is that I think that Israel has got a genuine security concern that it is entitled to meet,” said the former British prime minister. “For me, the fact that Israel says, ‘Look, we’re not going to allow things into the [Gaza] seaport, but you can bring them to Ashdod, and we can check them, and then they can come on to Gaza,’ I think that is a reasonable position.
What you can’t justify is saying that basic foodstuffs and household items can’t go into Gaza.”
'Distinguish between security needs and daily needs'
Indeed, Blair said he had been discussing the easing of those restrictions with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for a long time, and well before the fatal raid on the Mavi Marmara last month brought the issue to the top of the international agenda. “My argument was and always has been that there is a very clear distinction, the only distinction in the end you can sensibly justify, between the security needs of Israel and [the] daily life [needs of Gazans].”
Paraphrasing a Monday Jerusalem Post headline, he said: As you put in your paper today, ‘Coriander, yes; Kassams, no.’ I can justify that policy. What I found hard to justify was ‘Coriander, no.’… There is a constant battle here [against delegitimization] that anyone in Israel is well aware of. That’s why the smart thing is always to be on the ground that you can defend most easily.”
When it was put to Blair that the previous government policy had also been aimed at weakening Hamas and creating pressure for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, he noted: “The trouble is, you have the tunnels, which Hamas have a complete grip over… There was and is an alternative means of goods coming into Gaza.”
Blair said he would now be exploring the possibility of bringing PA forces to help oversee land crossings into Gaza, and restoring the EU’s role at the Rafah crossing.
“Improving the conditions of people in Gaza by whatever means is helpful to the overall cause,” he said.
'Hamas know what to do to enter negotiations'
Asked about the calls in some international quarters for Hamas to be brought into the negotiating process, Blair said that was up to Hamas.
“It’s their choice, really,” he said. “Hamas know perfectly well what they need to do in order to come into the process.”
The Quartet’s preconditions for Hamas participation in the negotiating process “don’t derive from some capricious folly on the part of the international community,” he said.
If Hamas wanted to be “part of a negotiation for a state of Palestine and a state of Israel,” he elaborated, it would have to shift its position from “saying we reserve the right to kill your citizens at the same time as we’re having this talk.”
If Hamas were interested in genuine progress, he said, as a first step, in the wake of Israel’s policy change, “you’d release Gilad Schalit, wouldn’t you, and you’d say, ‘Now we can get a whole lot of prisoners released from the Palestinian side,’ and everyone would feel better. So if [Hamas] want to play a constructive [role], the door is absolutely open.”
Blair also played down the likelihood of the US or EU seeking to impose the terms of an Israeli-Palestinian accord.
“There is no solution that can simply be imposed,” he said flatly. “The most that certain parameters can ever do is help define a direction the parties wish to go in… The idea that you suddenly slap down a solution, and say, ‘That’s it, there you are, I’ve decided it’ – that’s not the way it works.”
He said he believed the Palestinian Authority recognized this, and that he hoped the current US-mediated proximity talks would give way to direct negotiations “in the next couple of months.”
(The full interview with Tony Blair will appear in the Post later this week.)