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August 26, 2010

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

To delegitimize Israel is an affront not only to Israelis, but to those “everywhere, in every part of humanity, who share the values of a free and independent human spirit,” Quartet envoy Tony Blair said on Tuesday, in an exceptionally warm speech at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

Blair, the keynote speaker at a conference on the delegitimization of Israel, said the best answer to those who sought to delegitimize the Jewish state “lies in the character of Israel itself, in the openness, fairmindedness and creativity of the Israelis.”

“My advice,” he said, “is to guide that spirit and keep it.” Blair, who will be taking part in the launch of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Washington next week, said the last 60 years had been “remarkable for you, but what you have created is a remarkable example for the rest of us.”

In discussing the steps Israel needed to take to combat delegitimization efforts, the former British prime minister said it “should always be a staunch and unremitting advocate and actor for peace. What I mean by this is not simply that Israel should want peace, it should advocate it and act to achieve it.”

The negotiations conducted under the Olmert government “played an immensely important part in showing the world that whatever else they might say, they have to accept that the government of Israel was genuinely trying to bring about peace,” Blair said.

Likewise, he said, “the restart of direct negotiations to be launched next week is important. It is important in itself, and it is important in that it shows that Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu, on behalf of the new government of Israel, is an advocate of peace.”

Blair said the one-year time frame placed on the talks was also important because it indicated there was “a simple and sincere yearning on the part of the people” for peace with the Palestinians.

“I know some are cynical about the process,” he said.

“I know some say it is all for show. I reject that view.I think that if Israel can receive real and effective guarantees about its security, then it is willing and ready to conclude negotiations for a viable independent Palestinian state. This is a brave decision by the prime minister, and a right one to engage in the negotiations.”

Blair also said that Israel should deal with legitimate criticism, and one such piece of legitimate criticism was that more could and should be done to improve the daily life of the Palestinians.

These improvements would not only help the Palestinians, he said, but also dilute “the most potent fuel, especially in the Arab media,” for the claim that the Palestinians are not only suffering injustice, but also a form of humiliation.

“Dignity is a very important concept,” Blair said.

“Consistent with security, Israel should constantly be looking for ways to compensate for the indignity which inevitably results sometimes from security measures, and should seek to avoid any unnecessary indignity.”

There were two forms of the delegitimization of Israel, Blair said. The first was “traditional, obvious and, from certain quarters, expected,” and came from those who openly attacked Israel’s right to exist. Pointing to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as an example, he said that his form of delegitimization – calling for Israel to be wiped off the map – was easier to deal with “because it is so clear.”

The more pernicious form, however, was not as open, and came from those who were unwilling to recognize that Israel had a legitimate point of view, Blair said.

“The issue of delegitimization is not simply about an overt denial of Israel’s right to exist. It is the advocating of prejudice in not allowing that Israel has a point of view that should be listened to,” he asserted.

Blair said that “a consistent conversation I have with some, but by no means all, of my European colleagues, is to argue not to apply rules to the government of Israel that they would never dream of applying to their own governments or their own countries.”