Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the US Congress there was no workable alternative to a two-state solution to the long and bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mr Blair told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee both sides were in favour, but in practice, “they doubt it can happen”.
“The opportunity is there,” said Mr Blair, the international negotiator for the Middle East on behalf of the United Nations, the US, the European Union and Russia.
“But it won’t remain if not seized. As President Obama has recognised, this is the right time to seize it.”
The best way, he said, was to try to make it clear to the Palestinians that negotiations would result in genuine statehood and to the Israelis that there could be “an agreed programme for reform of the Palestinian security sector”.
On the Israeli side, he said, the country would not agree to a Palestinian state unless it knew its neighbour would be secure, stable and well governed.
Next week, Barack Obama will immerse himself in trying to point Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu towards negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.
Mr Netanyahu is reluctant because Israel cannot be sure of an end to violence. And Mr Abbas is reluctant to negotiate for an agreement with the Israeli leader until he agrees to freeze construction of Jewish homes on territory occupied by Palestinians.
But, differences aside, Mr Blair said the time for peacemaking was opportune, with the Arab countries agreeing to recognise Israel, provided it agreed to a Palestinian state that included all the land captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Mr Blair urged Mr Obama to push quickly for negotiations, provided it clearly pointed to genuine Palestinian statehood.
Members of the Senate panel appeared to agree there was no alternative to negotiations.
Committee chairman Senator John Kerry said: “We all understand that peace will not come to the Middle East quickly or easily.”
But, he added: “I share Mr Blair’s optimism that this moment presents an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.”