Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blair on the West Bank


He [Blair] was shocked by what he was told about conditions in Hebron and diplomats say he was genuinely taken aback by his trip to the West Bank sector of the Jordan Valley – where Palestinians are allowed to dig wells only a third as deep as Israelis – at the exploitation of resources by the rich Jewish agricultural settlements at the expense of closed in Palestinian farmers. And he has been privately dismissive – rather more so perhaps than he was as Prime Minister – of the argument by some Israelis that security comes first, with economics and a political deal well behind it. "All three have to happen together" he has told diplomats – which is what he sees Annapolis as being about. This week he has been concentrating on the economics and is pressing Israel to permit job growth in the West Bank's Area C, where it has direct as well as total control – including a Japanese government plan for an "agro-industrial" park in the Jordan Valley.

A key purpose of all this, of course, is to try to give the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, something tangible to show for the outline political accord that he and the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, are under pressure to reach before Annapolis and which Mr Blair sees as a " stepping stone" to full negotiations for a final resolution.

Some of the possible contours are beginning to clarify: a land swap to preserve the big West Bank Jewish settlements and, possibly, Israeli agreement in principle to East Jerusalem as a future Palestinian capital.

But the obstacles could hardly be more potentially terminal. Mr Abbas, at least as much as Mr Olmert, will have to make concessions without yet having a final deal in return. And this at a time when a totally excluded Hamas will have every opportunity to sabotage any process.


He thinks the similarities with Northern Ireland are as great as the differences but since it irritates Israelis for him to say so, he doesn't. But that doesn't stop him recalling how Ian Paisley told him early in his premiership there would never be an agreement in Northern Ireland.

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