Gaza is no-go for Blair

By Shelly Paz, June 13, 2008

Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair has told the Commons foreign-affairs select committee that he would not visit the Hamas-run Gaza Strip for fear of disrupting peace efforts.

The former prime minister, addressing MPs last Thursday, said: “We need to get a ceasefire in Gaza, progressively to start reopening the crossings, start to get proper humanitarian help through, and then build our way back out of this situation where the people of Gaza can be helped.”

It was Mr Blair’s first appearance before MPs since his appointment as envoy for the Quartet — the UN, the EU, the US and Russia — in June last year after he stepped down as prime minister. He conceded that he had not yet visited Gaza and said that he would not do so until he was sure his visit would “help, rather than harm, peace efforts”.

Tony Blair waves as he leaves his car in the West Bank town of Nablus

Mr Blair said he understood the position that peace talks should include all relevant parties, but noted that that was not the Quartet’s position. Its policy is to hold talks only with those who accept the existence of Israel.

Asked by Labour MP Jim Sheridan whether the Quartet’s channel with Hamas was blocked due to the lack of trust Mr Blair has experienced from Palestinians, he responded: “When people talk about whether you are independent or not, what they really mean is you are too close to America or Israel.

“The Palestinians know that whoever helps them in this situation has got to have some leverage with Israel and America to be any use in this situation at all.”

Mr Blair said he believed that Israelis were now more accepting of the notion of a two-state solution.

“Israel could do and has to do a lot more in respect of Gaza and of the West Bank, but it also needs protection from the rocket attacks from Gaza,” he said.

He was speaking on the day that an Israeli father of three was killed in a mortar attack at Kibbutz Nir Oz.

“A few weeks ago we were pressing the Israelis to let more fuel into Gaza, and they [Palestinians] then go and kill two innocent Israeli civilians who were trying to get the fuel into Gaza,” he said. “It does not create a very easy situation.”

Last updated: 2:15pm, June 17 2008