Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and official envoy for the Quartet, looking a bit grayer and thinner than during his days in office, got an enthusiastic welcome. He began by attesting to his friendship with Israel and its credentials as a democracy. (“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.”) He declared, “In many respects, the Middle East region should regard Israel not as an enemy but as a model.”
He then made a pitch for the two-state solution (“the only path to lasting peace”). He acknowledged: “It isn’t that sensible, well-intentioned people could not sit down and negotiate their way through the issues of borders, refugees, even Jerusalem.” What is key, he says, is “what happens down in the street, in the daily experience of the people.” There can be no Palestinian state, “unless it is sure that state will be securely and properly governed.” Israelis may believe they lack a partner for peace, he explains, because there is doubt “not about whether Palestinian leaders want peace; but whether they can deliver peace.”
Then came the non sequitur — direct negotiations, he said must begin. But, but… yes, what about the inability of the Palestinians to “deliver peace”? Well, Blair has the candor to review recent history — the Palestinians’ rejection of peace at Camp David, the ensuing intifada, and the war that followed the withdrawal from Gaza. So then Blair detoured into a plea to build from the bottom-up the Palestinian institutions. “It can’t be done in a summit. It has to be done patiently, and over time on the ground. . . . 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.” And he singled out Salam Fayyad as championing such an approach as well as Bibi for helping to facilitate the economic boom in the West Bank.
Of Israel he asked not to risk its security but “to know that in changing the lives of Palestinians who want peace,” it will enhance its own security. Of the Palestinians he demanded, “The mentality has to move from resistance to governance. There can be no ambiguity, no wavering, no half heart towards terrorism.” [Loud ovation.]
Moving on to Iran he declared, “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. [Notice the contrast between his formulation and Hillary’s, which resisted the “do whatever it takes” or “all options” formulations.] The danger is if they suspect for a moment we might allow such a thing. We cannot and will not. This is not simply an issue of Israel’s security. This is a matter of global security, mine, yours, all of us.” [Loud ovation]
He summed up with another plea: “If one day Israel can be secure, recognized, 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.”
There is no doubt that Blair is an eloquent speaker and a thoughtful observer. But there was in his speech a central contradiction: if, in fact, a civil society and change of heart from the Palestinians are preconditions for peace, what then is the point of endless peace conferences and negotiations, especially considering the Palestinians’ lack of authority and of will to make any deal, let alone a comprehensive peace? And — indeed — one wonders whether in all the drama and the fights preceding those talks, the cause of building those institutions and the transition in Palestinian mindset is not set back, rather than advanced. What are we accomplishing, especially when the Palestinians are not even willing to meet face-to-face? Other than employing George Mitchell, keeping Hillary busy, and maintaining Obama’s image as a great “peace maker,” it is hard to fathom.