Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hamas must be brought into peace process, says Tony Blair

Whilst he was in office Tony Blair was ridiculously pro-Israel, so there ought to be great significance attached to the fact that even he is now calling for Hamas to be part of any Israel/Palestine negotiations on the future of a Palestinian state.

In an interview with Ginny Dougary in the Saturday Magazine, Mr Blair says that the strategy of “pushing Gaza aside” and trying to create a Palestinian state on the West Bank “was never going to work and will never work”. He hints in references to how peace was eventually achieved in Northern Ireland that the time may be approaching to talk to Hamas ... “My basic predisposition is that in a situation like this you talk to everybody.”

The Israelis, of course, have preferred only to talk to Abbas, who they regard as "moderate", even though they have offered him very little as a reward for his moderation, a moderation which many Palestinians have come to see as capitulation.

But it is fascinating to hear Blair push aside the Bush rhetoric which he, for years, espoused; and now talk in a way which makes some kind of sense. I can only think that the arrival of Obama on to the scene has meant that, either Blair is liberated to tell the truth in a way that he was not in the past, or he is displaying a certain amount of political opportunism here and aligning himself with the new administration as a way of preserving what he sees as his own political importance.

To be fair to Blair, he did always understand that solving the Israel/Palestine question was central to any attempt to quell terrorism world wide and he did attempt to make his decision to join Bush in Iraq in some way conditional on the US forcing Israel to make a deal with the Palestinians. However, in the end Bush shafted him and he was left failing to call for a ceasefire in Lebanon so as not to appear out of sorts with the Bush administration. It was a fatal error which resulted in the Labour party forcing him to announce a date for leaving office.

However, to see Blair repositioning himself to such an extent, certainly gives me great faith that I have not been overly optimistic about the Obama administration's attitude to this conflict.

Blair clearly senses that the tide is turning and that Obama is going to have a much more adult and serious approach to achieving peace than his predecessor.

Thought to be privately critical of the failure of the former US administration to give a full commitment to the peace process, Mr Blair says that the appointment of Mr Mitchell, with whom he worked on the Northern Ireland peace process, indicated a “real commitment” by America.

The truth is that Bush's search for peace in the Middle East was half hearted as he always feared upsetting the Israelis.I have always thought that Obama appointed Clinton because she had pro-Israeli credentials which he lacked and that she would be able to push for Israeli compromises which he could not.

There is certainly nothing in Blair's statement to make me think that I was wrong about this and plenty to give me hope that I was right.

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