Tony Blair in Israel
Tony Blair in IsraelKempinski

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Quartet Middle East envoy, was in Israel for the first International Economic Regional Cooperation Conference on Monday at the David Intercontinental Hotel.

During the conference, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom awarded Blair a token of appreciation for his tireless work to “open huge blocks and assist in the security situation in the Middle East.”

On stage, Vice Prime Minister Shalom said that although Tony Blair deals with the Middle East as a whole, he is first and foremost dedicated to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Blair was later interviewed on stage by Channel 2 News’ diplomatic analyst Udi Segal.

Asked about what he thinks will happen in the region in the next few weeks as the Palestinian Authority plans to submit its unilateral statehood bid to the United Nations, Blair emphasized the need to return to direct negotiations.

“We should try as hard as we possibly can to find a way through that allows us to get back to the only thing that will resolve this, and that is a negotiation toward a viable independent state of Palestine and a secure state of Israel recognized by the region,” Blair said.

“We can carry on with this impasse or that impasse,” he added, “[but] we always come back to the same issue and the same basic conclusion.”

While Blair admitted that he does not know whether it would be possible to resume peace negotiations before September 20, when the PA presents it statehood bid, he said efforts should be made to do so as possible.

“There’s no way of looking at this in which we are in a better place without negotiations,” he emphasized, adding that the Quartet is trying to find solutions for a negotiations framework from where the situation stands now.

Blair reemphasized the benefits of democracy, referring to Israel’s recent protest movement and the Israeli government’s response as a model for the region as a whole. “You’ve got freedom of assembly here…they’re not firing on demonstrators here and that’s the difference in a democracy.”

He concluded by saying that he is still optimistic about peace and is basing that optimism on looking at the big picture.

“If you look at the big picture, it’s not in anyone’s interest not to make peace when you could make so much with peace,” he said. “It’s not sensible to remain in conflict when in peace we could create so much for both Israelis and Palestinians and for this region.”