Blair worried by Middle East violence

Tony Blair was questioned by MPs earlier today
Tony Blair was questioned by MPs earlier today

The situation on the ground in Israel and the Gaza Strip must improve before progress can be made towards a peace agreement, Middle East envoy Tony Blair has told MPs.

The former prime minister, giving evidence to the Commons' international development committee in parliament, said a "minimum security threshold" is needed for talks to make progress.

He also called for Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip to alleviate current tensions. Militant group Hamas is continuing its defiance of Israel by firing rockets across the border, mainly targeting the town of Sderot.

Mr Blair said he was focusing his efforts on building up a "security capability" for both sides and for Israel to roll back its occupation of Palestinian territory.

"Until you get a period of calm, you won't get the space you need for. a more rational political discourse," he explained.

"They don't feel like making those compromises unless they see the situation on the ground moving towards a political solution. There's a lot more that Israel could do and has to do."

Mr Blair appeared to acknowledge the peace talks begun after the Annapolis conference in November 2007 have all but stalled, saying the conference was valuable as a lesson in how an agreement could work "if people have the right attitude and goodwill".

Some MPs accused Mr Blair of not being the right person for his current job. He is the envoy of the Quartet, which comprises the US, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

Mr Blair rejected the suggestion he was "too close to America or Israel", arguing it helped his efforts to have strong relations with Israel.

"I find that ordinary Palestinians know that whoever helps them in this situation has to have some roots in Israel," he added.

"The package that I negotiated with the Israelis a couple of weeks back was the first time the Israelis sat down and had the negotiation in quite that way. You need the relationship with the Israelis to do that.

"One of the things I learned in the course of the whole Northern Ireland peace process if it's fine, you can start condemning one side, but that's basically your exit speech. You have to be prepared to work with both sides."


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