Tony Blair's optimistic view of Middle East peace prospects met with some scepticism from MEPs at a public hearing on Monday. But private sector-led economic growth could nonetheless contribute significantly to the peace process, argued Israeli and Palestinian business representatives.
Development Committee Chair Eva Joly (Greens/EFA, FR), was critical of Tony Blair's performance so far as Quartet Representative. "Why not declare two states unilaterally?", she asked. "The only solution which will last is the one negotiated", said Mr Blair, adding that such a unilateral declaration could be "more valuable to people making this gesture than to those affected by it".
"How to progress when one of the two sides doesn't respect its international engagements and the other side cannot make itself heard other than by violent means?" asked Dominique Baudis (EPP, FR).
"You build it through actions (...) Up to the year 2000 you could build this through words. The difference now is: I don't believe you could do that. You have to build it through actions" which build trust, replied Mr Blair.
"Could Hamas engage in a journey leading to peace and democracy?", asked Richard Howitt (S&D, UK). "If there is a strong momentum behind the process that gives us a realistic prospect of seeing peace", then it could, said Mr Blair, adding that Hamas would have to decide whether to support it or to stand apart, but that "the majority of people in Gaza and West Bank back the two state solution".
"If Palestinians and Israelis are to reach an agreement, allowing increased economic exchanges and development of a viable economy in Gaza and the West Bank, this would be most appropriate approach to rebuilding trust between the both sides", said Development Committee Vice-chair Corina Creţu (S&D, RO).
Economic co-operation could be one way to restart the stalled Middle East process, agreed business representatives from the two sides.
David Simha, Vice-president of the Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Hanna Siniora, from the Israel-Palestinian Centre for Research and information, expressed the will of business communities on both sides to strive for peace and development. Hanna Siniora made it clear that the road blocks in the West Bank need to be lifted. "There are 600 of them left at the moment. Businessmen and products have to undergo security checks", he said.
"What you’re doing in terms of building bridges is remarkable, we need to see you here more", Pronsias De Rossa (S&D, IE), Chair of Parliament’s delegation with the Palestinian Legislative Council told the business representatives.
However, Barbara Shenstone, West Bank Field Director for the UNRWA warned MEPs against the "general trend towards de-development and impoverishment in Palestinian Territories". "It is too early to say that the signs of economic development suggest a trend towards economic growth", she said.
Accessibility of Humanitarian Aid
Iva Vajgl (EPP, Slovenia) asked about the how accessible humanitarian aid is for the Palestinian people, noting that Israel exerts its control via various bureaucratic tricks. Both UN representatives highlighted the extreme difficult humanitarian situation in Gaza where currently only a few food and relief items are allowed to get into Gaza. "Israel could do more to facilitate our work", said Barbara Shenstone from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA ).
EU added value
Asked by Werner Schulz (Greens/EFA, DE) what political role the EU should play, Mr Blair replied that "Europe has a yearning to play a political role" but should instead focus on what it can do best, which is contribute to the capacity building of a future Palestinian state, by consolidating the rule of law and the strengthening the Palestinian security forces.
In this way, Israeli security concerns can be met too, thus helping to build mutual confidence, added Mr Blair. Veronique De Keyser (S&D, BE) disagreed, instead advocating a "dual approach to security", i.e. including a responsibility to protect the Palestinians, too.
In the chair: Corina Creţu (S&D, RO)