Tony Blair: His speech to Aipac in full

The former British Prime Minister and envoy to the Middle East Quartet Tony Blair has called for the release of Gilad Shalit in his speech to the Aipac conference in Washington. His speech in full:


By Jessica Elgot, March 23, 2010
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"My job is to try to get agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, for the Quartet which tries to get agreement between the US, the UN, the EU and Russia. I thought after being Prime Minister of Britain for ten years I should try something easy.

I am always described as a friend of Israel. It is true. I am and proud of it and I will tell you why.

Israel is a democracy. The politicians are in fear of the people, not the people in fear of the politicians.

Citizens are governed by the rule of law. Men and women are equal before the law.

In Israel you can worship your faith in the way you want; or not as you choose.

There is freedom of thought and speech; Israeli society is vibrant, its art electrifying and its culture open.

In many respects, the Middle East region should regard Israel not as an enemy but as a model.

I admire the fortitude of its people. I remember attending Independence Day at Mount Herzl. I met a young man. Five of his family had been killed in a terrorist attack. He had been blinded. But there he was standing tall and strong and proud to be carrying one of the 12 torches of the tribes of Israel.

Israelis and Palestinians are not destined to be enemies to each other. I regard myself as a true friend of both.

Month in, month out, I and my team, spend my time in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Sderot, Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Jericho, in small villages and towns, down in the valley of the River Jordan, up in the hills of Sebastia, even in Gaza. I speak to the business people, the local mayors, the security chiefs, the generals, the political leaders, and of course the people. In most, not all, but the overwhelming majority, I find a deep yearning to discover the path to peace.

And I believe with a passion: the only solution that works is a solution that delivers security to Israel and dignity to the Palestinian people.

A state for the Jewish people.

A state for the Palestinian people.

It means that once there is an agreement on the contours of a Palestinian state, that is that. The end of all claims. A settlement that is final.

It means that the Palestinian state has to be viable, independent and democratic.

This is the two state solution. It is not a slogan. It is the only path to lasting peace.

And it can be done.

But only if we understand the nature of the challenge.

It isn’t that sensible, well-intentioned people could not sit down and negotiate their way through the issues of borders, refugees, even Jerusalem. They could. Most people on both sides have a sense in their head of what the answer would be.

The challenge is not simply about what happens in the elevated heights of the negotiating chamber. The challenge arises from the breakdown of trust. And that is about what happens down in the street, in the daily experience of the people.

When I try to describe this issue to outsiders, I say: first look at the map. You could fit the whole of Israel and the Palestinian territory into New Jersey. On Sunday, I flew by helicopter from Jordan, crossed the West Bank and landed by the Knesset. It took me less than ten minutes.

See how closely people live to each other. Remember the history. Then realise the simple truth that Israel will not and cannot agree to a Palestinian state, unless it is sure that state will be securely and properly governed. I wouldn’t take risks with my country’s security; I don’t ask Israel to take risks with theirs.

Israel can’t afford what happened in Gaza in 2006 happening in the West Bank in 2012. Rockets from Gaza it can, with difficulty, survive.

Rockets a few minutes from Ben Gurion Airport it cannot.

So when Israelis say they doubt if they have a partner for peace, it is not only about whether Palestinian leaders want peace; but whether they can deliver peace.

The tragedy for the Palestinians is that the penalty for the extremism of the few is paid by the many in checkpoints, searches, permits, demolitions and security measures that are often heavy and sometimes oppressive.

Then they see that though they cannot build in Area C, which still constitutes 60% of the West Bank, settlement expansion continues in disputed territory.

So what do we do?

First, start negotiations. The Israeli PM said at Bar-Ilan he wants a two state solution. The Palestinian President says he wants a two state solution. So begin negotiating about it. Put all the issues on the table and talk. Senator George Mitchell, someone with whom I worked closely and successfully, making peace in Northern Ireland, is now using all his considerable wisdom in this process. President Obama and Secretary Clinton are fully behind this endeavour. Reward their efforts and get the negotiation going, face to face, direct, PM to President, as soon as possible.

Secondly, however, let us acknowledge what has changed since the failure to reach agreement in the year 2000.

Until the year 2000, and with the heroic attempts of President Clinton, we attempted to achieve an agreement first and then shape reality around it. But it was not to be. After that came the Intifada. Thousands died. Then came the withdrawal from Gaza. Israel got out. It took 7000 settlers with it. In Israeli eyes, it received violence and terror in return.

The occupation deepened. Gaza was isolated. Faith in peace collapsed.
Ten years on, that faith has to be restored.
It can’t be done in a summit.
It has to be done patiently, and over time on the ground.
It can’t only be negotiated top-down.
It has also to be built bottom up.
Peace now will not come simply through an agreement negotiated; it must come through a reality created and sustained.

It means building institutions of Palestinian Government: not just well equipped, loyal security forces, but civil police, courts, prisons, prosecutors, the whole infrastructure of the rule of law.

It means treating those who commit acts of terror not only as enemies of Israel but enemies of Palestine.

It’s about the economy: jobs, living standards, aspiration and ambition. It’s about education, about children taught in modern classrooms by good teachers and taught peace in order to live peacefully.

It’s about human rights, equality, freedom, democracy.

These things are the substance of statehood. The form of a state may be about its borders. Its lifeblood is about what happens within those borders.

That is the work my team and others, like the United States and the European Police Mission, are engaged in. And here is the good news.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, under President Abbas is trying to build the state from the bottom up. Over the past two years, the Palestinian Authority has taken militia off the streets. New court houses are being opened. Proper prison facilities are being built. In the last year, the judicial system handled more cases than in the previous ten.

The Israeli Chief of Defence staff regularly says to me: tell the Palestinians: if they do more, we can do less.

The Palestinians are. PM Netanyahu and Defence Minister Barak, with whom I work closely, deserve credit for the steps taken in response. Many of the main checkpoints are now removed or open.

Israeli Arabs are coming over the border. They are helping reflate the economy. I can tell you today the latest figures. In 2009, not a good year for the world economy, the Palestinian economy grew by almost 10%. In 2010, for the first time Palestinian revenues will top $2 billion. Donors will provide only a third of the Budget, down from half in 2008. The budget deficit will fall.

And the money, by the way, goes into a special treasury account, certified by the World Bank and IMF.

In just over two months, in Bethlehem, we will hold the second Palestinian Investment Conference. Last year we succeeded in getting the single biggest FDI project Palestine has seen. This year we will showcase technology, financial services and tourism.

Two years ago I could not have gone to Jenin. Now I go freely.

There in the northern point of Palestine, we will soon open a new industrial park at Jalemeh, where some months back I sat on the Israeli side of the line, talking with the Mayor of Gilboa. My interpreter, since the Mayor only spoke Hebrew, was his Arab Deputy Mayor.

So, yes, the obstacles remain huge, the distance to go immense. The mistrust still deep.

But what you see nightly on your TV screen is only one part of the story. Too often we see the hate. But there is also the hope.

Sometimes people say to me: “Hey you used to be Prime Minister of a great nation, and now you spend your time examining earth mounds in obscure parts of Palestine, arguing why hospital workers should be able to travel into East Jerusalem, getting electricity and water to small villages outside Qualqilya.” They think I’ve gone down in the world; feel sorry for me.

But one thing I learnt in all the years of painstaking peace-making in Northern Ireland: details matter. They may seem trivial to us but to people who live them, they are the difference between paralysis and possibility.

So what I ask of Israel, as its friend, is not to risk its security; but to know that in changing the lives of the Palestinians who want peace and if empowered, can deliver it, Israel’s security is not forfeited but enhanced.

Learn from what we have done and do more.

Even in Gaza. Gilad Shalit’s captivity is a disgrace. He should be released forthwith. Ordinary Gazans, many of whom are opposed to Hamas, should have clean water and sanitation; that legitimate people not the tunnel merchants can do business; that the children, half the population there, get the care they need.

This I ask of Israel.

What I ask of the Palestinians is to realise one thing above all else: the two state solution begins not with a state of land but a state of mind. The mentality has to move from resistance to governance.

There can be no ambiguity, no wavering, no half heart towards terrorism. It is totally and completely without justification and we will never compromise in our opposition to it or those that practice it.

Over all of this undertaking, challenging and fraught as it is already, lies a shadow. We are not the only external actors in this drama. Iran has conceived a role also; and it is not for peace.

Its regime sees this dispute as part of a far bigger picture, and in this, at least, it is right.

They are clear in what they seek. We should be clear also.

Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons capability.

They must know that we will do whatever it takes to stop them getting it. The danger is if they suspect for a moment we might allow such a thing. We cannot and we will not. This is not simply an issue of Israeli’s security. This is a matter of global security, mine, yours, all of us.

Iran’s regime is the biggest de-stabilising influence in the region.

Israel understands that.

So do the Arab nations.

That is why the Arab Peace Initiative launched in 2002, remains their earnest desire.

The Middle East region faces a struggle that goes far beyond its borders and encompasses much more than the dispute between Israel and Palestine.

The population of the Arab world is set to double in the next decades. But what sort of future will it be? The far-sighted among them know that it should be a future not of narrow minds, religious bigotry and hostility to others, but one in which across the divide of faith, race and geography, we pursue together with common purpose, the good of all humanity.

This is a vision we share. One which a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians can help strengthen; not because the conflict is the cause of the extremism but because its resolution would be such a powerful harbinger of hope.

No person of Abrahamic faith can stay long in Jerusalem without feeling they are in their spiritual home. Jerusalem should always be an open city for all people who wish to worship free and without fear.

I like the fact that my young son’s friends in London number Jews, Muslims and Hindus as well as Christians. I look at this nation of the USA, a patchwork of different races and faiths, woven into one. This is the right way for the 21st century world.

This is the world we want to pass on to our children. This is the world my father fought for, when Europe was plunged into the nightmare of an ideology that sought to treat one race as superior to others, the ideology that brought us the Holocaust, the most wretched abomination in human history.

What we learned then, we should learn still. That human beings are born equal and should live free. It is in striving for that ideal that the state of Israel came into being.

If one day, Israel can be secure, recognised, understood and respected by the nations which surround it; if one day the Palestinian people can have their own state and can prosper in peace within it and beyond it, we will bring more than peace to people who have lived too long with conflict.

We will lift the scourge of extremism and bring hope to the world.

Last updated: 11:23am, September 21 2010