Blair: Hamas should be part of peace process
Former British PM tells the Times of London Hamas must renounce violence and recognize Israel first.
Hamas should be part of the Middle East peace process, said Tony Blair, former British prime minister and envoy to the region of the international quartet of powers, in comments published on Friday.
"I do think it is important that we find a way of bringing Hamas into this process, but it can only be done if Hamas are prepared to do it on the right terms," Blair said in an interview with the Times of London newspaper, published on its Web site.
Blair is the Middle East envoy for the quartet of Middle East peace negotiators - the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union.
Blair told the newspaper that that the strategy of "pushing Gaza aside" and trying to create a Palestinian state on the West Bank "was never going to work and will never work."
"Yes, we do need to show through the change we are making on the West Bank that the Palestinian state could be a reality," said Blair.
"The trouble is that if you simply try to push Gaza to one side then eventually what happens is the situation becomes so serious that it erupts and you deliver into the hands of the mass the power to erupt at any point in time."
Blair repeated the Quartet position that there can be no talks, official or unofficial, with Hamas until they renounce violence and recognize Israel. However, he said that his "basic predisposition is that in a situation like this you talk to everybody."
In Gaza, Hamas official Mushir al-Masri said Blair's comments were proof that the West was acknowledging that Hamas could not be dismissed, although he added that the envoy's demands were unacceptable to the Islamist group.
"Blair's statement...repeated the same obstacles set by the West: to reject the recognition of Palestinian democracy, to impose the siege, to provide cover for the Zionist enemy's crimes against our people and to refuse to deal with the legitimate government and parliament," Masri said.
He added that Hamas was a strong and popular political entity and that Blair's repeat of "the same old ideas" would solve nothing.
With a shaky cease-fire in place after the war in Gaza, efforts are under way to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The West supports the Fatah administration in the West Bank and says it will not talk to Hamas unless it renounces violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also recently expressed willingness to engage Hamas "when they accept the peace process, when they agree to start negotiations."