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Blair Says Conditions Must Change for Israelis and Palestinians to Make Peace


Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will not succeed until the reality on the ground improves for both sides. Mr. Blair made the remarks during a speech in Washington and VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details.

The same day Tony Blair resigned after 10 years as British Prime Minister he was appointed as representative of the Middle East Quartet to help the Palestinians build their institutions and economy.

The Quartet, which consists of the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States, has been trying to improve conditions for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

But Mr. Blair says everyday realities must improve for both sides before any agreement is possible.

"The problem is that until now the reality on the ground for Israelis and Palestinians has not passed what I would call the minimum threshold of credibility for the political negotiation to succeed. Not for the Israelis on security, not for the Palestinians on lifting the occupation," he said.

Mr. Blair, who has been the Quartet's representative for the past 18 months, says there recently have been small improvements in the West Bank.

He says Palestinian security forces have successfully deployed in the West Bank cities of Jenin, Nablus and Hebron. Mr. Blair says the economy is improving and the unemployment rate is falling.

In his speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, the former British prime minister said conditions continue to deteriorate in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the militant group Hamas.

Mr. Blair says there cannot be a Palestinian state until the situation in Gaza is resolved.

"There can only be one Palestinian state. It will combine Gaza and the West Bank. However much we are tempted to set Gaza to one side because of the chaos it causes to Palestinian cohesion, it cannot be. But neither is its predicament inevitable. It can and it must be reversed," he said.

Mr. Blair says the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank must prove it can maintain security. He says Israel must also stop building Jewish settlements there.

Mr. Blair says ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains key to solving other problems in the region.

"Peace between Israelis and Palestinians would release forces of modernization across the region. It would pin back the forces of reaction and it does not inhabit an entirely separate sphere from issues like Iran or Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan or any of the other troubled parts of that region, which crowd in on our consciences and compete for our attention. It is integral to resolving them too," he said.

Mr. Blair says an effort by the Bush administration to boost peace talks during a conference in Annapolis, Maryland last year does provide a platform to build on even though the sides will not reach their goal of an agreement by the end of this year.


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