Tue, Feb 17, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Gaza must be revitalized: Blair

MIDDLE EAST:The international community needs clarity from Hamas and unity in Palestinian politics to promote reconciliation, Quartet peace envoy Tony Blair said

Reuters, GAZA

Any Israeli-Palestinian peace deal must lead to improved living conditions for Palestinians to prevent violence between the two from erupting again, Middle East peace envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair said on Sunday.

“The last conflict left Gaza devastated and its people more downtrodden and impoverished,” Blair said in Gaza, the site of last year’s July and August war between the territory’s Muslim militants and Israel.

“I am extremely concerned that if we leave Gaza in the state it is in, you have another eruption in violence and then we are back into a further catastrophe,” Blair said.

A successful peace drive required “a broad and a profound improvement in the daily life of Palestinians ... unified Palestinian politics ... [and] an enhanced role for the region in alliance with the international community,” he added.

Blair said Hamas, the Palestinian faction that runs Gaza, had to declare whether it wanted a peace deal with Israel.

The group regularly calls for the destruction of Israel and has rejected any peace accords with Israel signed by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The international community needs clarity from Hamas. Are they a Palestinian nationalist movement dedicated to the achievement of a Palestinian state ... are they prepared to accept the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders or not?” Blair said.

Some Hamas leaders have said they would accept a Palestinian state on land Israel occupied in a 1967 war in return for a long-term truce, but they would continue to refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Blair, envoy of the UN, the EU, Russia and the US — the so-called “Quartet” — said that only with a unified Palestinian political stance could the international community “promote reconciliation alongside reconstruction.”

Little of the US$5.4 billion pledged for Gaza’s reconstruction at a Cairo conference of international donors in October last year has reached the territory, and thousands of Palestinians have been sheltering in tents near destroyed homes.

Thousands more Palestinians have been living in damaged buildings, using plastic sheeting to keep out rain.

About 20,000 displaced people are still housed in UN-run schools.

The Palestinian Authority was meant to oversee rebuilding because Israel and the West fear Hamas would use the materials to build tunnels and fortifications.

Blair added that private enterprise was a vital part of improving the daily lives of Palestinians in Gaza.

“Once there was a thriving private sector here and it has to be a thriving private sector again... We need a radical change of approach from Israel... that Gaza and its economy requires,” Blair said.

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