WASHINGTON — Former British prime minister and peace envoy Tony Blair told AIPAC’s annual policy conference Sunday that a broader regional approach between Israel and its Arab neighbors could create the conditions for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“We’re not going to reach peace in the old way; we need a new way forward,” Blair said, adding that the process of bridging divides between Israel and the Arab world has been “going well, actually.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long advocated for such a strategy. Since US President Donald Trump assumed office, speculation has abounded that Washington will seek to engage Sunni Arab countries to advance a regional agreement that will encompass Israel and the Palestinians.
Blair, who has served as the Middle East Quartet’s special envoy to the region, endorsed the approach in front of almost 18,000 delegates at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s 2017 confab at the Washington Convention Center.
There is need for “a different approach to reach peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” Blair said. “The key to that approach, in my view today, lies in the relationship with the region.”
“Today there are common strategic interests and common objectives that are shared between Israel and the Arab nations,” he added, alluding to mutual fears about Iran’s activities in the region and its ambition to acquire a nuclear weapon.
“What I work on is based on this fundamental belief: that the key to transforming the Middle East and therefore to a more peaceful world is to have a relationship between Israelis and Arabs — which can be open, above the table, acknowledged — in which Israel’s right to exist is accepted and Israel works closely with Arab states,” Blair said.
He also stressed the need for a two-state solution to be “pursued in a way that guarantees Israel’s security.”
A frequent visitor to the Middle East, Blair shared with the audience that he would be making his 178th visit to Israel in the coming weeks.
Asked by the moderator whether the dynamic between Israel and its Arab neighbors was beginning to develop, Blair answered in the affirmative, but suggested there was more progress needed on that front and that the Palestinian situation could not be ignored.
“It’s happening, but it needs to happen much more,” he said. “The key to that is you cannot get this new relationship unless the Palestinian issue is managed and dealt with and put at least on a path to resolution.”
Still, he reiterated that an “outside-in” approach could foster an environment conducive to striking the elusive accord.
“We’re going to have to create a new set of circumstances. Up to now, people have thought, if you do a peace deal, then the circumstances will change,” he said. “I think it’s the other way around. I think we need to change the context of peacemaking, and then we’re better able to make peace.”