Blair hopeful of Turkey’s unique role in the Middle East

October 11, 2008

Former UK prime minister and official Quartet envoy for the Middle East Tony Blair paid a visit to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogany and discussed the positive role Turkey can play in the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Blair and Erdogan discussed Turkey's position with respect to Hamas and Turkey's possible contribution in convincing Hamas officials to endorse a two-state solution. Blair stressed his optimism that Hamas can be a party to negotiations on condition that it recognize Israel's right of existence and that Palestine should be a single entity at the negotiating table.
Blair said Turkey has a unique position vis-à-vis the sides of the Middle East conflict as both Israel and Palestine trust Turkey and the Turkish prime minister is highly respected among the Palestinians. Blair was speaking to a small group of journalists including a representative of Today's Zaman on Wednesday.
Commenting on the recent terrorist attacks in Turkey and Parliament's decision this week to extend for one more year government authority to send Turkish soldiers to northern Iraq, Blair said he fully sympathizes with Turkey and believes Turkey has the right to respond to these attacks.
Blair admitted that as the envoy of the Quartet, he had a greater chance to understand the reality of the conflict in the Middle East. ""Today, I believe that the solution will come only through a bottom-up approach accompanied by a top-to-bottom peace negotiation strategy. We have to deal with the reality on the ground. We have to deal with both the security problems of Israel and the occupation problem of the Palestinians at the same time. We have to improve the capacity of the Palestinians to provide security on their own and lift away the occupation. Occupation reduces the desire of the Palestinians for peace,"" he told Turkish journalists.
Blair informed journalists that he and the Turkish prime minister also spoke about possible cooperation between the Alliance of Civilizations and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation that Blair established last May. Blair said that at a time where globalization has overwhelmed all borders, religion could play both a constructive and a destructive role. He said he is hopeful that his interfaith initiative will also be helpful for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
""A peace between Israel and Palestine will rebuke those who believe that Islam, Christianity and Judaism cannot live together. The Israeli-Palestinian struggle is still the single most important issue that defines the relations of Islam and the West. This has to be solved,"" he said.
Blair remarked that Turkey's unique role in the Middle East can help both the peace process and the interfaith initiative. ""There is far greater interest in Turkey than ever by means of its relations with the West and with Islam,"" said. Blair said that he is optimistic that the Palestinians will also learn from the unique experiences of Turkey.