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World Should Back Palestinian Unity Government: Blair | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) -Tony Blair said the world should deal with a Palestinian unity government, following the West’s crippling boycott of the current Hamas-led administration.

“If such a government is formed then I believe it’s right that the international community deals with such a government,” Blair told a news conference here Sunday after talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Abbas said it was vital the process of establishing a new government of national unity “within the next few days” and that he would travel to the Gaza Strip later in the day for the latest round of talks.

Abbas also said he was ready to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert without conditions, echoing a statement from Olmert to the same effect late Saturday.

“We signal our readiness to resume serious negotiations and an end to the cycle of violence,” Abbas said.

“I stand fully ready to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert without prior conditions and we are ready to begin immediately the preparations for this meeting.”

Like Olmert, Abbas did not announce a date for the encounter. The two men last met in an informal setting in Jordan on June 22.

But King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egpytian President Hosni Mubarak urged Abbas and Olmert to meet “as early as possible”.

After talks in the Jordanian capital, Amman, the pair said Arab countries need to “adopt a common position to support the Palestinian cause” and reaffirmed their backing for Abbas to create a broad coalition.

Olmert’s main coalition partner, the Labor Party, also urged him to meet with Abbas without delay.

Blair’s official spokesman told reporters after the news conference in Ramallah that the unexpected announcements showed “the momentum is now in the right direction” for re-starting the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The prime minister himself said it was vital for both parties not to miss the “window of opportunity”.

“I think this is a moment that we have to try and seize to mobilise the international community and lead this process forward and do so on the basis of justice and fairness for all concerned,” he said.

Asked whether Blair would speak to Hamas if Abbas succeeded in forming a national unity government, his spokesman said that would depend on whether the unity administration was based on the principles of the road map for peace.

But Hamas Sunday once again rejected conditions set by the West for resuming talks, describing them as “unjust”.

Drafted by the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, the road map sets out a series of steps necessary to establish a viable, Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.

But it has made next to no progress since it was launched in 2003.

Following Hamas’ election win in January, the European Union and the United States froze all direct, financial aid to the Palestinian government, demanding Hamas renounce violence, recognise the Jewish state, and agree to abide by past agreements.

The Israeli government cut nearly all contacts with the Palestinians after Hamas formed a government in March.

The Western aid freeze has wrought havoc on the aid-dependent Palestinian economy. The moderate Abbas has been trying to form a national unity government to restart the flow of Western funds.

He told the news conference it was “high time” to put an end to Palestinian suffering.

“It is the right of the Palestinian child to grow in stability and prosperity and it is each mother’s and father’s right to live in dignity in their safe and independent state,” he said.

Blair — who announced this week he will leave office within a year — arrived in the Middle East late Saturday and has since urged both Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.

He is also looking to redress a perceived pro-Israeli foreign policy bias, particularly after his refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire in the Jewish state’s month-long war on the Shiite Hezbollah militia in Lebanon this summer.

Blair — whose presence in Ramallah was met with a low-key demonstration — met families of the two Israeli army soldiers kidnapped in southern Lebanon and one in Gaza, whose capture by militants led to massive Israeli military retaliation.

Blair is due to travel to Lebanon on Monday, where he is likely to face fierce protests over his stance during Israel’s offensive on Hezbollah.