Middle East peace plans at risk, warns Blair

Middle East envoy Tony Blair warned today that the peace process was in jeopardy and Israel must fully support the goal of living next to an independent Palestinian state.

He said a period of political inactivity caused by Israeli elections and the change of administration in Washington has set back progress. The hiatus coincided with the launch of Israel’s Gaza offensive in December to try to halt years of rocket fire at Israeli towns and cripple Hamas.

“We face a situation of very great jeopardy for the peace process” in 2009, said Mr Blair after talks at EU headquarters with Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU external relations commissioner.

“We need a combination of strong political negotiations toward a two-state solution and major change on the ground.”

“The next six months actually will be completely critical in determining whether this process can move forward or whether it will slip back,” he added.

He spoke a day after Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s new leader, promised to seek peace with Jerusalem’s Arab neighbours but remained silent about a Palestinian state living next to Israel in peace – which has long been the goal of the international community on whose behalf Mr Blair speaks.

Mr Netanyahu is observed with trepidation in European capitals. He favours pressing ahead with construction in West Bank settlements. His new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is an ultra-nationalist and several of his cabinet members oppose territorial compromises with Palestinians.

“Now that we have a new administration in place in the United States, now that we have a new government in place in Israel this is the time when we have to make 2009 a year of progress,” said Mr Blair.

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