Blair: Peace talks must tackle core issues

RENEWED peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians must tackle core issues including Jerusalem, Middle East envoy Tony Blair has said.

The remarks have raised the spectre of a clash with Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Unless you’re dealing with the core issues, then the negotiation, I don’t know what it is about,” Blair, envoy for the Quartet of Middle East mediators, the US, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, said yesterday. “It will be the substance that matters.”

Blair’s remarks were the strongest signal yet by the group that it would pressure Netanyahu to resume negotiations on final-status issues – the borders of a Palestinian state as well as the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Netanyahu’s right-wing and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners oppose negotiations on the core issues, underscoring the balancing act he faces in trying to satisfy demands for substantive peace moves without destabilising his government.

Netanyahu, who met with Blair on Wednesday, has been vague in public about the scope of any talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

This week, Netanyahu said he was ready immediately to begin negotiations on economic, security and political issues.

But he has yet to endorse a two-state solution, or clarify whether “political” negotiations will include the core issues.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party criticised then-prime minister Ehud Olmert for restarting talks on core issues in 2007.

The talks bogged down last year and broke off after Israel’s Gaza offensive in December.

Blair said the international community hoped to settle on the future course for the peace process following Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama in Washington on May 18.

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