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Israel has the chutzpah to clinch a two-state deal with Palestine and the Arab world

Writing exclusively for the JC, former UK prime minister Tony Blair says this week's protests require 'careful handling and solid leadership'

    Spectators watching the Giro d'Italia's second stage in Haifa on Saturday
    Spectators watching the Giro d'Italia's second stage in Haifa on Saturday (Photo: Getty Images)

    Israel feels like a second home to me. It is probably the country I have visited the most often — close to 200 times.

    I admire Israel for building up a cutting-edge high-tech industry, and more often than not, there is an Israeli angle in major advances in medicine, agriculture, science, cyber and energy.

    The Israel that I have had the privilege to get to know up close is creative, innovative, dynamic, with argumentative politics.

    The issues faced by Israel are among the most important challenges for the international community. The security of the State of Israel is not only an Israeli interest; it is a global interest.

    Iran clearly remains a major concern, not just because of its nuclear programme but also due to its support of extremist groups throughout the region.

    This is one reason for the strategic alignment we now see between Israel and the moderate Arab states.

    The region has changed dramatically since Israel’s establishment — and now more than ever before we have the opportunity to move towards a real and lasting peace between Israel and its neighbours.

    The 70th anniversary of Israel’s establishment is an opportunity to look back and see how much has been achieved; and Israel is an overachiever, without a doubt. It is also a time to look ahead, and decide how best to build on those achievements, building a secure and peaceful future.

    Increasingly, Israel’s moderate neighbours see it not as a threat, but as a possible ally with shared interests.

    This opens up an opportunity to finally move towards a two-state solution, where a reimagined Arab Peace Initiative enables key Arab states to actively engage in a process between Israel and the Palestinians.

    I firmly believe that the key to an open relationship between Israel and the moderate Arab states, where Israel’s place in the region is secured for the next 70 years and beyond, is through ensuring the Palestinian issue is put firmly back on the path to resolution.

    The Arab states have an important role to play in bringing about a reconciled Palestinian politics that supports peace and recognises Israel, and an engaged region will provide the strength to help carry any peace process forward.

    True, relations between Israel and these states are already moving forward, but they remain limited in scope, sensitive to any adverse developments on the Palestinian front, as we see when tensions rise around Jerusalem or Gaza.

    As a friend and supporter of Israel, I cannot ignore that we are no closer to an independent and viable Palestinian state, and this is something that should worry us all.

    Two states for two peoples remains the most viable and realistic option to resolving this conflict finally.

    There remains a latent and clear desire for peace amongst both Israelis and Palestinians: Israel knows that a binational state would mean it would no longer be the country we know and love today; Palestinians know that the State of Israel is not going to disappear.

    The reason I remain so committed to finding a way to move forward on the two-state solution is out of the belief that without resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we will find it harder to build the alliance necessary in the Middle East region to defeat extremism.

    So, the opportunity exists — but there are many forces with a vested interest in scuppering any chance of progress.

    The coming weeks will require careful handling and solid leadership as the “March for Return” culminates in Gaza, and all eyes will be watching the response on the ground to the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem.

    Progress is always the product of circumstance and leadership. The circumstances are ready; we need the leaders to have the wisdom to understand the opportunity, and the courage to seize it.

    And here, in the UK, the progressive part of British politics must help the sides explore this opportunity. The efforts for peace will not be helped by affording a vocal minority the platform to question whether Israel has a right to exist.

    I find it distressing that 70 years on, there are those who question not the policies and actions of Israel’s governments, but whether there should be an Israel at all. Too often, we have seen how anti-Zionism trends easily into antisemitism.

    The scourge we fought to eradicate in the 20th century has been allowed to make a comeback. We must once again stamp it out, by progressive political forces ensuring that antisemitism is not allowed to take root in any space in our national life.

    Israel has achieved an extraordinary amount in its first 70 years.

    The region is undergoing huge transition, where the ultimate goal should be rule-based economies and societies of religious tolerance. In the right circumstances, Israel can and should be a part of the overall change in the region, a change that is based on values and not just on interests.

    I firmly believe that its courage, innovation, and chutzpah can propel Israel forward towards peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world.

    I am proud of my relationship with Israel, and remain committed to helping Israel achieve this peace so that it can preserve its rightful place as a light unto all nations.

    Tony Blair, a former UK prime minister and Quartet envoy, is Executive Chairman of the Institute for Global Change

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