Palestinian PM vows never to recognise Israel


Richard Moore

Original source URL:,,1968086,00.html

Blow to Blair mission as Palestinian PM vows never to recognise Israel

The British prime minister plans final peace push but few believe he will 

Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger in Washington, Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem

Saturday December 9, 2006

Tony Blair's hopes of securing a Middle East peace settlement in his final days 
as prime minister were dealt a blow yesterday when the senior Hamas leader, 
Ismail Haniyeh, vowed in Iran that he would never recognise Israel and would 
fight on until Jerusalem was liberated.

Mr Blair is due to visit Israel, the Palestinian territories and another Arab 
country before Christmas in pursuit of his ambition of a peace conference.

In Washington on Thursday, he said he hoped to find a way of resolving the 
deadlock caused by the refusal of Hamas - the militant Islamic group that won 
this year's Palestinian elections - to recognise Israel's right to exist. The 
Israelis, backed by the United States and the European Union, have refused to 
deal with Hamas, and all have stopped funding to the Hamas-led government.

Mr Haniyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, speaking at Friday prayers at the 
University of Tehran, said: "The world arrogance [a reference to the US] and 
Zionists ... want us to recognise the usurpation of the Palestinian lands and 
stop jihad and resistance and accept the agreements reached with the Zionist 
enemies in the past." Ignoring US and British calls to recognise Israel, Mr 
Haniyeh said: "We will never recognise the usurper Zionist government and will 
continue our jihad-like movement until the liberation of Jerusalem."

The fact that he delivered his comments in Tehran, which Israel regards as its 
biggest threat, will further diminish the already slim chances of meaningful 

On Thursday, Mr Blair and President George Bush called on Hamas to accept the 
three principles set out by the Quartet grouping on the Middle East - the United
Nations, US, EU and Russia - that it should recognise Israel, renounce violence 
and accept past Palestinian treaties. Mr Blair hinted at a compromise when he 
said that if Hamas would not accept the principles, he would look for a 
different way forward. But he stressed that recognition of israel was 

Mr Blair, who also remains close to Bill Clinton, is conscious of how the former
US president in his last few months in office managed to bring together the 
Israelis and Palestinians for a summit at Camp David in 2000 that came close to 
securing peace.

The Foreign Office, which has been given the job of trying to fulfil Mr Blair's 
ambition, is privately dubious about the chances of making an impact in the 
prime minister's last few months in office, although the foreign secretary, 
Margaret Beckett, who recently returned from Jordan, argues that conditions are 
more conducive to peace than is generally believed.

However, Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent Palestinian politician and former peace 
negotiator, said of Mr Blair's visit: "People have learned not to raise their 
expectations for such events. It has been tried before repeatedly." She added: 
"People are rather realistic, and they are not expecting a deus ex machina to 
descend from London. But everybody wants to give any initiative a chance."

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, welcomed Mr Blair's visit and 
hoped he could break the deadlock on negotiations. He said: "He will have an 
impact. Nobody can force anyone, but I think people should try."

The idea of a comprehensive Middle East settlement received a boost this week 
when it was promoted by the Iraq Study Group, led by the former US secretary of 
state, James Baker. Like Mr Blair, he favours dialogue with Iran and Syria.

Mr Blair recognises the limitations of British involvement in the Middle East, 
and the necessity of US influence for peace in the region. But there is little 
evidence that the US is ready for a return to the "grand bargain" approach to 
Middle East peacemaking, exemplified by the 1991 Madrid conference. Although the
Iraq Study Group proposed just such a solution, the US political right reacted 
viciously yesterday towards the group. Rupert Murdoch's New York Post doctored a
photograph to show James Baker and the study group's co-chairman, Lee Hamilton, 
in furry suits and called them "Surrender Monkeys".

Such sentiments are believed to reflect the views of the vice-president, Dick 
Cheney, who is now isolated but still in a powerful position. However, even 
among administration moderates, such as Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of 
state, there is not much enthusiasm for the big conference approach. Her state 
department analysts reportedly believe that Syria is no longer focused on 
recovering the Golan Heights, but on restoring influence in Lebanon. She says 
she favours "deepening" Syria's influence and using Sunni Arab fear of Iran to 
help build a fence around Tehran.

Mr Blair's interest in Israel-Palestine may be partly with a view to the future.
Mr Clinton, on retirement, set up his foundation, focused on Africa, and Mr 
Blair may see himself as a Middle East intermediary after leaving office.

Chris Doyle, of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding, was 
blunt about the prospects of Mr Blair's visit, saying: "I do not think he has 
much support among Arabs, and the Israelis look to the US, not Britain."

The great Middle East jigsaw
Pieces of the puzzle that no statesman has cracked


Influence: Many, including Tony Blair and the Iraq Study Group, say the 
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the core not only of most of the Middle 
East's problems but the world's. The Israeli government, and many Israelis, 
dispute this.

What the west wants: Israel to establish a Palestinian state.

What Israel wants: Guaranteed security and recognition by all Arab states, 
including a peace treaty with Syria; the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas to 
recognise Israel; return of a soldier held by Palestinians since June; the 
Lebanese-based militia group Hizbullah to be disarmed; Iran to abandon its 
alleged nuclear weapons programme; and Jerusalem recognised as Israel's capital.

Realistic outcome: Little prospect of peace in the near future. Israel is more 
focused now on Lebanon and Iran than on the Palestinians. Blair's chances of 
making an impact are close to zero: Israel listens only to the US.

Influence: Huge emotional impact on the Arab world.

What the west wants: The Palestinians to have their own state, partly in the 
hope this will remove some of the resentment between the west and Islamic 

What Palestinians want: The end of a US-European aid boycott of the West Bank 
and Gaza because of Hamas refusal to recognise Israel; Jewish settlers to leave 
the West Bank; Jerusalem as their capital; and a solution to the millions of 
Palestinian refugees living in camps in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere.

Realistic outcome: Little sign of a Palestinian state in the near future. 
Israelis are suspicious, with some justification, that if they give Palestinians
a state they will start working towards retaking Israel. Blair would like a 
comprehensive Middle East peace settlement but immediate ambitions are more 
limited: negotiating the release of the Israeli soldier, the creation of a 
Palestinian national unity government and the end of the boycott. Even these 
limited aims will probably be beyond him in the time left to him as prime 


Influence: Syria is a transit point for fighters going into Iraq. Although its 
army has formally left Lebanon, its intelligence agents remain in place and 
there are many business ties. It is one of the sponsors of Hizbullah. Damascus 
is the HQ of Hamas abroad and home to one of its most intransigent leaders, 
Khaled Meshaal.

What the west wants: Syria, still formally at war with Israel, to agree a peace 
treaty with Israel, shut Hamas's office, cut links with Hizbullah and close the 
border with Iraq to insurgents.

What Syria wants: A peace deal in which Israel returns the Golan Heights 
captured in the 1967 war and the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Realistic outcome The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, is considering a deal 
with the west, but is constrained by domestic forces. Blair has tried to woo 
Syria over the past seven years, but so far without success. The Israeli prime 
minister, Ehud Olmert, said on Thursday the time was not right for a Syrian 
peace deal.


Influence: Iran has expanded rapidly since the US invasions of Iraq and 
Afghanistan removed its two biggest threats. Enjoying a dominance not seen since
the fall of the Persian empire, Iran has established a strong presence in Iraq 
because many Shias who were in exile in Tehran are now in government. It also 
has strong ties with Shia militia and is the main backer, financially and 
militarily, of Hizbullah, though Tehran routinely denies the link. It is also 
capable of stirring up trouble among Shias in Afghanistan, the Gulf states and 
Saudi Arabia.

What the west wants: Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment programme, which 
could lead to the creation of a nuclear weapon; support for Hizbullah to end; 
and an end to alleged Iranian-backed militia attacks on US and British troops. 
One of the central proposals of the Iraq Study Group is for US dialogue with 

What Iran wants: The United Nations security council to lift the threat of 
sanctions over its nuclear programme; the US to drop its declared goal of regime
change and provide a security guarantee; trade agreements with the European 
Union and membership of international trade and financial organisations.

Realistic outcome: Britain, unlike the US, has an embassy in Tehran but its 
contacts with the Iranian leadership are limited. The chances of stopping Iran 
securing a nuclear weapon are almost nil. Given Iran's present strength, there 
is little pressure on Tehran to negotiate. And George Bush on Thursday ruled out
dialogue with Iran until it suspended its uranium enrichment programme.


Influence: Destablising the region. It has left the US weakened and is a 
training ground for militants from the region.

What the west wants: A relatively stable, democratic Iraq.

What Iraq wants: Different things. Shias, the majority, want to retain control 
over the country. Sunnis, dominant under Saddam, want to regain control. Kurds 
are moving towards breaking away.

Realistic outcome: Iraq's future is out of Blair's hands. The south, where the 
British are based, is relatively quiet compared with the centre, north and west,
where most of the fighting is taking place. Civil war is well under way in the 
country. A continuing crisis for years to come.


Influence: The weakness of Lebanon for the past three decades has left it at the
mercy of various governments and factions in the Middle East. Hizbullah, which 
is a better disciplined force than the Lebanese army, increased its hold there, 
and in the wider Arab world, by beating off the Israeli offensive this summer.

What the west wants: A pro-western democratic government, free of Syrian and 
Iranian influence.

What Lebanon wants: Factions and religious groupings have different objectives.

Realistic outcome: Blair had little influence in Lebanon before the Israeli 
offensive and has even less now because of his repeated failure to call for an 
immediate ceasefire, a mistake that alienated not only the Lebanese but also 
many in the Arab world.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006

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