Blair makes personal pledge on road map

Tony Blair says he would have failed if he did not restart the Middle East peace plan
Tony Blair says he would have failed if he did not restart the Middle East peace plan

Tony Blair has said he would regard it as a personal failure if he is unable to restart the Middle East peace process in the coming months.

The prime minister said the Israeli-Palestinian issue was "emblematic of a different vision" he has for the Middle East, where democratic and moderate movements are in charge and states can live side by side in peace.

He acknowledged criticisms that he had promised action in the peace process before, and failed, but said he hoped to lay out practical plans on how the road map to a two-state solution could be achieved "in the next few weeks".

Mr Blair refused to rule out a visit to the region in the near future, saying only that an agreement on the future of the Palestinian people was the "only way of providing for better relations between the West and the Arab and Muslim world".

The prime minister's comments, made during his monthly press conference this lunchtime, echoed his insistence on Tuesday night that the current crisis in Lebanon will only be resolved in the long-term if the Israeli-Palestinian issue is also dealt with.

Finding a way through the Middle East peace process has been a defining foreign policy goal for the prime minister, and he has staked his reputation in particular on trying to get US president George Bush alongside.

Today he recognised that there had not been much progress, telling reporters: "I'm not uncritical about our position. I will most certainly regard it as a failure for me if there is not a re-energising, a revitalising of this process.

"I believe it to be absolutely fundamental and emblematic of a different vision for the Middle East. I want to see a situation where decent Arab and Muslim people, who basically share the same values, are back on the same side."

Mr Blair insisted Mr Bush was still committed to creating a viable Palestinian state during his tenure, and said there had been progress in reaching international agreement that there should be a two-state solution to the crisis.

But the refusal of the newly-elected Hamas government in Palestine to accept this option has been a major block to the peace process. When questioned about this issue today, Mr Blair admitted it "was difficult" but expressed hope the issue could be resolved.

"It's not that we don't recognise the mandate of Hamas, we do, but in the end we can't take the negotiations forward unless those negotiations are on the basis that people accept Israel also has a right to exist," he said.

However, he stressed that this meant that the Arab world must become involved, which meant people committing themselves not only to a viable Palestinian state but also to a secure Israel, and all parties had to agree to abandon violence.

"Trying to bring about a Palestinian state cannot be done unless there is also agreement on all those on the Arab side on the peaceful way of doing this," Mr Blair said.


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