Haaretz (Analysis)
September 9, 2011 - 12:00am

A Palestinian bid for greater recognition at the United Nations this month would be a cry of frustration, Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair said, calling for a new campaign to get Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track.

The Palestinians have vowed to upgrade their United Nations status, either by seeking full United Nations membership for a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and West Bank or recognition as a "non-member state."

Washington fears the move could create a new obstacle to flagging U.S. efforts to revive Middle East peace talks, which broke down last year following a row over Jewish settlements in occupied territory that Palestinians want for a state.

"I totally understand the frustrations the Palestinians have. We are all frustrated in this situation. We want to see progress toward peace, toward the two-state solution," Blair told Reuters Insider in an interview marking the 10th anniversary of the September 11 al Qaeda attacks on U.S. cities.

"The problem is you have always got to say, well what happens the day after [a bid for UN recognition]?'" the former British prime minister said.

"Any gestures that are done by way of unilateral declaration, they are expressions of frustration and they may be understandable for that reason but they don't deliver a Palestinian state," he said.

Western diplomats say Blair is playing a central but largely unheralded role in trying to revive the peace talks and perhaps avert a unilateral Palestinian thrust for full U.N. membership.

Blair said the only way to get a Palestinian state was through negotiation, noting that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had always said his preference was for negotiation.

"So I think between now and whatever happens at the UN we've got to work very hard to try and put a negotiated process back on track," said Blair, the representative of the quartet of Middle East peace brokers -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

Blair gave the interview on September 2 but it was held for publication until now at the request of his office.

Western diplomats in Washington say Blair's task is to try to win agreement among the Quartet on a statement that might lure the Israelis and Palestinians back into peace talks after a gap of nearly a year.

They say Blair's effort in part reflects a vacuum left by the United States after the May resignation of former Senator George Mitchell as its special envoy for Middle East peace.

If the Palestinians ignore U.S. and Israeli opposition and pursue full UN membership as a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, the bid will probably fail since Washington would veto it in the UN Security Council.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017