Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Israeli officials that a Mideast peace summit planned this autumn must bring substantive results, officials said Tuesday, as he resumed his first visit as the international community's envoy to the region.
Blair was meeting Tuesday with Israeli President Shimon Peres in the second day of his new role, in which he is charged with helping the Palestinians lay the foundation for a future independent state.
A key test for Blair will be the upcoming regional summit of Mideast leaders announced by U.S. President George W. Bush last week, Israeli officials said Tuesday.
Blair told Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in talks Monday that he wants the summit to bring real progress and not just be a photo opportunity, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity since they were not allowed to discuss such diplomatic meetings with the press.
The envoy was slated to meet later Tuesday separately with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Israeli officials who have spoken with Blair say he did not take the job to "bang on the table," but wants to learn the positions of the two sides before setting down a real working plan. Blair does not want to impose anything on either side but expects real progress, they said.
Israel understands that the regional meeting will be Blair's first test in his new role, the Israeli officials said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said after her talks with Blair Monday that his mission comes at a "critical time when it is possible to create a change of direction" after years of stalemate in peacemaking.
Blair's limited mandate from the Quartet - the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia - was to help the Palestinians develop their economy, build governing institutions and to lay the groundwork for statehood.
Officially, Blair was instructed to leave aside the underlying issues of the 60-year-old Mideast conflict, such as borders, Palestinian refugees and the governance of Jerusalem, raising questions about how effective he can be.
Blair's office said Monday that his meeting are "a preliminary visit to hear the views of key Israelis and Palestinians about the issues that have to be addressed in order to fulfill the demanding mandate Mr. Blair has taken on." He also would consult with Arab leaders, a spokesman said.
Creating the conditions of good governance has been complicated by the feud among the Palestinians that led to the forcible takeover of Gaza by the Islamist Hamas movement in a bloody five-day war. Abbas' Fatah movement now spearheads a moderate government in the West Bank while Hamas has control of Gaza.
In a statement after their meeting, Livni cautioned Blair to adhere to the internationally accepted policy of shunning Hamas, and to beware of "giving it legitimacy, either directly or indirectly."
Hamas, which won Palestinian legislative elections last year, warned that it cannot be ignored. "It will lead to nothing but failure," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.
Israel has taken a series of measures designed to boost Abbas' standing among his own people. It released tax revenues it had collected and withheld, freed more than 250 prisoners from jail, granted amnesty to Fatah-affiliated gunmen on its wanted list, and established regular meetings between Abbas and Olmert.
On Wednesday, the Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers are due in Israel to formally present an Arab peace initiative that envisions full Arab recognition of Israel in return for lands the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
In a weary world of endless US military interventions, sanctions, trade tariffs and chaos, let’s pause and take stock of the shining house on the hill