Watch: Optimistic Blair draws on NI lessons for Mid East: “You just don’t give up, because you can’t”


 

Former PM Tony Blair today sought to draw hope from his success in Northern Ireland as he works to get the Middle East peace process back on track.

Interviewed on MSNBC Morning Joe today, the Middle East peace envoy, when asked about the main lessons he learnt from NI to bring the parties together that he could bring to bear in the Israel-Palsetine dispute, said:

“Three things, first that you’ve got to give it shape, in other words you don’t just let them wander off, you’ve got to try and shape a successful… You have to go between the two of them [Adams and Paisley] until you can work out where a potential area of agreement is, and then you, you let that, you know, start to shape the negotiation.

The second thing, though, that is very important is you have to calm the violence, you can never negotiate if there’s active violence going on because people then, the bitterness is too deep.

And the third thing and the thing I learned most about actually, was, you just don’t give up, because you can’t, so, I know it sounds sort of easy to do but, we, once we even got the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, we then spent ten years implementing it, I mean, it was a nightmare every step of the way, but you just focus and focus down on it.”

Watch the interview in full:

Blair also cited the wider turmoil in the region as a cause of further setbacks – and a key reason to solve the intractable conflict – and pointed to the vast economic benefits of peace for the Palestinians.

Below is a transcript of the interview:

Q: “So, Palestine recognised by the UN – what does it mean?”

TB: “It means that the Palestinians have got very frustrated by the lack of a proper peace process, and so they’ve taken their case to the UN. The Israelis have now retaliated with a settlement announcement, and what we’ve got to do is try and put that behind us and get back to some form of credible negotiation, which I think is what I said the last time I was here and probably the time before that…”

Q: “The Obama Administration is saying what the United Nations did unilaterally is a setback – do you agree with that?”

TB: “The real point is that in the end what delivers a Palestinian state is a negotiation. The body I represent is split on the issue. Some people are in favour of the UN vote, some people are against it, but the truth of it, whether you are in favour or against it, is that the only thing that’s gonna work to deliver a Palestinian state side by side with a secure state of Israel is peace, and as you can see from what’s happened in Gaza, what’s happening in the diplomatic scene, we’re a long way away from that at the moment, but we have got a chance now, I mean the President’s been re-elected, I know he’s deeply personally committed to this, and we just got to re-grip it I’m afraid.”

Q: “What’s gone wrong over the past six months to a year, why are we where we are today?”

TB: “It’s partly because there’s so much turmoil in the region right now, this is making a huge difference to how each side views its own prospects.”

Q: “How would you characterise a credible negotiation, given the fact that, as long as we’ve been alive, there’ve been these problems that keep erupting and never ever ever get solved…”

TB: “Well it’s interesting to note that occasionally we’ve come quite close, by the way. It’s just important, because otherwise people will think ‘well it’s hopeless so why bother, y’know you’ve been trying for 30, 40 years’. I always point out to people, y’know, it was 50, 60 years of failed processes in Northern Ireland before we got one that worked. Actually, back in the year 2000, again in 2008, the parties came quite close, so you’ve got no option, in the end. I mean, a one-state solution means, in the end, I think, a nightmare for both sides, so the only thing that works is to get back to a negotiation. I think what would make it credible is if we, we’ve got to shape the negotiation…”

Q: “The President does?”

TB: “Well, I think the international community, that means particularly, obviously the US, give it some shape so that we can see, right, this is where it’s going to go.”

Q: “Dr Brzezinski says that we can never just sit back and let the Israelis and the Palestinians do this by themselves because we’ll be waiting forever, that we have to come in as a strong, honest broker. Do you agree with that assessment?”

TB: “Yes, I do, and I think the other thing that’s really important to realise is, because of what’s happening in Egypt right now, then you’ve got Syria, the region is in total turmoil. Israel’s two biggest allies, Egypt and Turkey, have both changed their attitude towards Isreael, obviously, in the past period, and for the Palestinians, you’ve got the division between the Gaza and West Bank. The only thing I would say is it remains hugely important, this dispute though, I mean I can’t see a peaceful region, long-term, that is stable, without the solution coming about, so, even with everything that makes it difficult, you’ve got to go back and try.”

Q: “How much of an influence, slash, impact, right now, at this moment, are the Israeli elections, with Bibi Nethanyahu running for re-election in January?”

TB: “Israel’s a democracy, what happens in a democracy is, when an election’s going on it’s pretty dominant, so yes it makes a big difference, but when I go back there for what will be about the 90th time since leaving office, you know what I expect to find are two sides that are pretty far apart from each other right now.”

Q: “Thank you for your hard work there and for your optimism. Like our last several Presidents you’re optimistic that this can be solved, it must be solved. But you’ve twice mentioned the instability in the region as being something that runs counter to the prospects of the negotiated settlement. Aren’t we going to have instability now for a long time, people are now talking about Jordan coming into being unstable, Egypt looks like it’s going to be unstable for a long time, so if instability as an enemy of a deal, don’t we have to settle it now for a good long time?”

TB: “That’s possible, but actually, there is another way of looking at it, which is that right now with this instability in the region this is the time for the two sides to recognise it would be sensible to make progress, and therefore give the politics of both sides a bit of insulation from what is otherwise a, a situation that is, you know it’s hard to just imagine what’s going on in the Middle East right now, and remember, one of the things I will say to people about this is, remember, Egypt 50 years ago had a population of 30 million – today, it’s 90 million, right, it’s tripled its population; the average age of people in Gaza is 50% under the age of 18. You’ve got a situation where you’ve got a young population all over that region, they’ve got to have jobs, they’ve got to have opportunity and hope for the future. This is not just about politics, it’s also about the economy, and, frankly if you could take the Israeli-Palestinian thing to a better place you would have then, I think a, a better chance of not having that dispute then get caught up in the turmoil in the region, which I think it, there is every prospect if we don’t move it forward.”

Q: “…Let’s go back to how we find peace in the Middle East. I know there’s a question that you’ve been asked many times, and you’ve thought about repeatedly: how do we replicate the success you talked about in Northern Ireland, where in the 1980s you had a situation so bad, well the seventies of course, Bloody Sunday, and the 1980s, you had the IRA trying to kill the British prime minsiter – in the 1990s you had Gerry Adams talking about peace, and, you know, people in that region would no more believe that Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley would shake hands than they would believe that the leader of Hamas would go hug Nethanyahu. How did it happen there, and how can it happen in the Middle East? What did you learn through that process you had such a huge role in?”

TB: “Three things, first that you’ve got to give it shape, in other words you don’t just let them wander off, you’ve got to try and shape a successful…”

Q: “So how did you do that with Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley?”

TB: “Well, you have to go between the two of them until you can work out where a potential area of agreement is, and then you, you let that, you know, start to shape the negotiation. The second thing, though, that is very important is you have to calm the violence, you can never negotiate if there’s active violence going on because people then, the bitterness is too deep, and the third thing and the thing I learned most about actually, was, you just don’t give up, because you can’t, so, I know it sounds sort of easy to do but, we, once we even got the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, we then spent ten years implementing it, I mean, it was a nightmare every step of the way, but you just focus and focus down on it.”

Q: “So it seems to me that there’s not gonna be, and, listen, I mean, you look at my votes in Congress, I’m as pro-Israel as, I should have a key to Tel Aviv on my wall in my office, but, we’re not gonna have peace without Hamas being at the table, we’re just not. You talk about what you can tell is going to happen, you may not be able to say this. as a strong supporter of Israel, I know if Hamas is not there, then you’re going to have them killing whoever makes the deal, so, how do we move down from where they are to how you moved the IRA from where they were to…”

TB: “The key was, we managed to get an agreement that the violence stopped, right, so, in Ireland what, in order to get people in the door of the negotiating room, the violence had to stop, so, in my view, if you were able to do that, and they were prepared to be part of a, of a negotiation for a two-state solution, then you might be in a different position. The trouble is, at the moment, it’s very hard to say to the Israelis, negotiate with them in circumstances where they are firing rockets out of Gaza.”

Q: “Right, and still saying you don’t have a right to exist?”

TB: “Yeah, so, you know, it, would it be better if you had Hamas at the table? Yes, but in order to have them at the table in anything other than a totally unrealistic…”

Q: “What do they want, other than the destruction [of Israel]? They know Israel’s not going away. What does Hamas want?”

TB: “To be frank, you can’t be sure, and, the point about organisation like Hamas is that, you know, it’s probably part Palestinian nationalist, but it’s part broader Muslim Brotherhood, and, you know, what the agenda is, therefore, is sometimes hard to decipher, but the basic fact is, if you want to get people round the table, there’s got to be at least an agreement that the violence stops.”

Q: “You also mentioned one of the keys in Northern Ireland to negotiationable success, that might apply to Hamas. Gerry Murphy lived in a neighbourhood in Belfast called Ballymurphy, the unemployment rate approached 90% in Ballymurphy. To go the table, I think he was, he knew instinctively that Northern Ireland didn’t, they did not need any more martyrs, they need more people employed, that was very effective…”

TB: “It was very effective, but by the way, we could do this, on the Palestinian side, until recently, the West Bank economy was moving ahead, if we’d manage to get Gaza opening up, stop the weapons coming in to Gaza, started to open up Gaza, you’ve got, for example, what we’re trying to develop at the moment is, you’ve got a gas field, about 50 kilometres off the coast of Gaza, that would make the Palestinians energy independent, would actually give them revenue for their Authority, and probably allow them to export some energy, so, you know, it’s, the thing that I find most frustrating sometimes is not that it’s impossible to see the solution to this, but, actually, it is possible to see it.”

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  • swatantra

    Slight difference with NI. NI was more of a terrorist’s war using guerilla tactics, hit and run away
    In the case of the ME its really a war between Arab and Israel. And the Arab Armies are arrayed across the whole ME East. Although each Arab Nation hates their neighbouring Arab Nation’s guts, they have one common enemy and that is Israel. We’ve seen several wars between the Arabs and the Israel but each time Israel has come out on top because it has had the military strength and the resolve of its people who never give up or surrender. The opposite can be said of the Arabs. We’ve seen pitched battles and Arab armies surrendering en masse and suing for peace.
    For the Arabs the thought is there that maybe next time they’ll get the better of Israel on the battlefield.
    So I’d disagree with Tony. and say perhaps that is the only way that this conflict can be settled, on the battlefield.

  • jaque

    look at the history of Europe and the EU. Israel and Palestine should form one country under one government. This is the one-state solution and it is the only reasonable long term solution.

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