Gaza Crisis: Tony Blair on the Commando Raid

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In the aftermath of the flotilla raid, the Gaza dispute is at the forefront again, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process faces the risk of a renewed deadlock, in which Turkey and Iran play increasingly important roles. Tony Blair, representative of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators, spoke on the challenges ahead with NEWSWEEK's Anita Kirpalani. Excerpts:

Is the current crisis a turning point for the global public opinion on Israel?

I think it's been very serious, but it all depends how things now develop. As terrible and tragic as this incident is, the determining factor will be whether people believe in the end that both sides are sincere in their desire for peace.

Has it changed Israel's opinion of itself?

There is a lot of comment, of soul-searching. But most Israelis feel very strongly about Gaza, the release of Gilad Shalit, and the need to protect Israel's security. I think the issue is the same as for elsewhere: have Israel protect its security while not harming the people in Gaza.

Should Israel be punished for the flotilla?

I don't think you can make any judgments before the facts are known. We should wait for the investigation to report.

Is Benjamin Netanyahu putting the peace process at risk?

I think he is sincere in his desire for peace. I believe the Palestinians sincerely want peace too. But we've got to make sure that we pursue it vigorously.

What is the situation in Gaza: is there really "no humanitarian crisis," as Netanyahu said?

Over the last few weeks we have actually got more material in. However, the fact is—which is the reason I have been calling for a change of policy for two years now—we can't get stuff in order to repair housing, build infrastructure, power, water, sanitation. In particular, legitimate business people are at a disadvantage because people get stuff through the tunnels, whereas they can't do their businesses.

What are the risks of Gaza becoming an "Iranian port" if the blockade is lifted?

There are links between Hamas and Iran, for sure, but the way to prevent that happening is to prevent weapons being brought in…But materials that are necessary for normal living should come in because they are not a security risk. At the moment, goods are coming in, but on a restrictive basis that often makes it very difficult.

Do you think Iranians are playing a negative role right now?

Yes. In their opposition to the two-state solution, in the statements the president has made about Israel, and in the influence they use in the region.

What about Turkey?

Turkey's position is very different; it is a responsible member of NATO. Obviously, they have been very angry about what has happened in the last few days, but I hope there will be in time a reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, which have traditionally been allies.

Do you have the feeling Turkey is becoming much more pro-Palestinian?

They have always been. But I think they still support the two-state solution and want to see it happen.

Will this crisis have consequences for the vote on the Iran nuclear sanctions at the U.N. Security Council?

There shouldn't be. The answer is that I don't know but there shouldn't be. The issue of Iran acquiring nuclear-weapons capabilities is a threat in its own right.

Is it the time to talk further to Hamas?

People do talk to Hamas. The issue is very simple: there is a path opened to Hamas to become part of the peace process, but, as we found in Northern Ireland, to be part of the peace process you've got to be committed to peaceful means. If Hamas refuses to accept that they should pursue their objective peacefully, then it's difficult to make them part of a peace process toward the two-state solution.

Is there an opportunity in this crisis?

The event itself is a tragedy, but I think it shows us once again that any solution in the Middle East has to take account of Gaza and, secondly, the important thing is to redouble our efforts for peace and not to allow a tragedy to derail us.

Gaza Crisis: Tony Blair on the Commando Raid | World