IMAGE: BLAIR WITH ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER
Pool  /  Reuters
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Tony Blair chat before their private meeting in Jerusalem on Monday.
updated 7/24/2007 10:55:54 AM ET 2007-07-24T14:55:54

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking for the first time in the Mideast as its peace envoy, urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders Tuesday to take advantage of a new “sense of possibility” in the region.

Blair, who arrived in Israel on Monday, said he had come “to listen, learn and reflect” during two days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. But he said he already senses a willingness by the sides to make progress.

“I think there is a sense of possibility, but whether that sense of possibility can be translated into something, that is something that needs to be worked at and thought about over time,” Blair said after meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem.

Blair is the new envoy for the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators — the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia. He is charged with laying the foundations for a future independent Palestinian state. Blair’s first test will be the success of a Middle East peace summit, expected in the autumn, announced by President Bush last week.

Blair told Israeli officials that the Middle East peace summit must bring substantive results and not just be a public relations event, Israeli officials said Tuesday. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity since they were not allowed to discuss such diplomatic meetings.

‘Serious window of opportunity for peace’
Peres, a Nobel peace laureate, promised to use his largely ceremonial post to support Blair.

“Your success is our success. Your dreams are our dreams,” he told reporters after their meeting. “I feel this is a serious window of opportunity for peace, but the duration is not too long. We will have to help you.”

Blair met later in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. He will wrap up his visit in Tuesday night in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Blair’s mission will complement direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. “What will make the requirement for peace at the end of the day will be the bilateral Israeli-Palestinian tracks,” he said after Blair’s talks.

He said the envoy would return to the Mideast in September.

Another Palestinian official said Blair informed Abbas that his official mandate was to provide an economic horizon for Palestinians but that he would try to use his good relations with Israel and Bush to give new life to the peace process. The official, who attended the meeting but was not authorized to brief the press, spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity.

Flurry of efforts to restart peace talks
Blair’s trip is part of a flurry of diplomatic efforts to restart peace talks after a seven-year lull.

On Wednesday, the Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers will arrive 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.

Blair takes up his task at a promising time. The Palestinian uprising has largely fizzled and Abbas has installed a pro-Western government in the West Bank.

Blair’s mandate from the Quartet was limited to helping the Palestinians develop their economy, build governing institutions and laying the groundwork for statehood. He was instructed to leave aside “final-status” issues on resolving the conflict, such as borders, Palestinian refugees and the governance of Jerusalem — a move that raises questions about how effective he can be.

His task also has been complicated by Palestinian infighting that led to the forcible takeover of Gaza by the Islamist Hamas movement in a bloody five-day war last month. Abbas’ Fatah movement now spearheads a moderate government in the West Bank while Hamas has control of Gaza.

The Quartet has shunned Hamas, which the United States and EU consider a terrorist group.

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.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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