News / Middle East

Blair Calls for Restraint from Israelis and Palestinians in VOA Interview

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair during a VOA interview, 23 Mar 2010
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair during a VOA interview, 23 Mar 2010


Meredith Buel

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is urging Israel and the Palestinians to avoid actions that could derail efforts to restart peace talks in the Middle East.  Mr. Blair told VOA correspondent Meredith Buel construction of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and Palestinian violence in the West Bank could lead both sides to lose the willingness to negotiate.  

Tensions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have risen in recent weeks as Palestinians clashed with Israeli troops.

Palestinians believe moves by the Israeli government have been designed to tighten Jewish control over land the Palestinians want as part of a future state.

Recently the international Quartet on the Middle East condemned an announcement by Israel to build 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is the Quartet's special envoy to the region.

"The essential thing is for people not to do anything that inhibits, or obstructs, or hinders our attempt to get the parties around the table, talking, negotiating, and reaching a deal," said Tony Blair.

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The United States has been trying to restart peace talks, but Israel's decision to expand settlement construction in East Jerusalem threatens to disrupt that effort.

Mr. Blair says both sides must refrain from actions that undermine the potential negotiations.

"I think anything that causes the other side to lose faith in the other's willingness to negotiate is a problem and that is why there has been this debate about settlements," he said. "The Palestinians, for example, have also got to make sure that they continue to take action on security, that they do not engage in any action that could lead the Israelis to think that anyone is inciting violence in any way."

The Quartet consists of the United Nations, Russia, the European Union and the United States.

For nearly three years Mr. Blair has been the group's representative, with the primary goal of developing the Palestinian economy and institutions so a Palestinian state will be ready if the parties agree on a two-state solution.

"My view very simply of this is get the negotiations going, get them underway and then carry on with this patient, rather below the radar, ground up exercise of trying to build the institutions of statehood, the economy, the development of the West Bank and the Palestinian territory," said Blair.

While British prime minister, Mr. Blair was criticized for his close relationship with then-U.S. president George W. Bush.  

Mr. Blair agreed to send British troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and says he still stands by those decisions.  He says the big lesson learned from those wars is that the fight against extremism is difficult and requires a sustained effort over time.

"And we have to be prepared, I am afraid, to be in there for the long haul and be prepared to stand up, both for our values, but also to show our determination that those who use terror and car bombs and suicide bombs should not get their way," he said.

Mr. Blair says his personal religious convictions help drive his dedication to the peace process.

"If you are a person of faith of the Abrahamic faith, whether you are a Jew, Christian or Muslim, being in and around Jerusalem and in the Holy Land is just an immensely special experience," said Tony Blair. "That is why sometimes people say to me you cannot really enjoy being out there, surely, with all the challenge and the difficulty, and in fact I do."

Mr. Blair's memoirs, titled The Journey, are scheduled to be published later this year.

The former British prime minister says he has learned that he cannot please everyone all the time, but consistently trying to make the right decisions is the only way to lead a country.  

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