The Struggle for Peace
Peace in the Middle East, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in the Issam M. Fares Lecture, can only be achieved through a global diplomatic effort.
Tony Blair has stood on Mount Nebo, the peak just east of the Jordan River where Moses is said to have looked out on the promised land of Israel. And he has also stood on the Mount of Temptation, located in Jericho in the West Bank, where Jesus is said to have been tested by the Devil. A Palestinian tour guide who was with the former British leader in Jericho remarked, "Moses, Jesus, Mohammed -- why did they all have to come here?"
The anecdote, related in Blair's address as the 2009 Fares Lecturer on Feb. 2, underscored the complex issues facing the battle-scarred region. Blair spoke to a near-capacity crowd at the Gantcher Center about the challenges of achieving peace in the Middle East in an increasingly globalized society. The event was organized by the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts.
Blair, who served as prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1997 to 2007, is now serving as the special envoy of the Middle East Quartet, a group comprising the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations that is mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the single most important thing we can do to create peace in the region," he said. "We need to reach into the region in a deeper and more articulate way than we've done before.
"How we combat [the challenge] will determine the future of this region and the future of the world."
Blair laid out three principles he believes should guide the peace process. The first is a commitment to "reinvigorate" negotiations. Peace in the Middle East, Blair asserted, will not be won by military might but rather by diplomacy.
Achieving that peace in the form of a two-state solution, Blair explained, would be the "single most powerful expression of coexistence there could possibly be," and the impact would be profound across the world, paving the way for peace with Syria and Lebanon, as well.
Blair drew multiple comparisons to his participation in the Northern Ireland peace process, which brought bitter enemies around the table to help end a decades-long period of violence.
Second, Blair said that Israel's security needs must be balanced with encouraging progress in the West Bank. Despite recent violence, Blair said that last year brought the "beginnings of hope and prosperity" to the region, a trend he said must be continued.
"At the same time as that theory of a state is built from on top, so we have to build from the bottom up," he said.
The last element was a new approach for the Gaza Strip, which has been the site of intense violence between Israel and Hamas in the past month. Blair spoke of the palpable tension he has felt during his visits there.
"We have to offer the people of Gaza a way out of this misery," he said.
An Interconnected World
The days of national self-interest, Blair said in his address, are behind us. Today, he said, we live in an era of global interdependence that relies on international alliances to confront a shared set of challenges.
"The world is opening up," he said. "There is a coming together. Do we make that coming together work or do we make that coming together a source of friction and division that then leads to a coming apart?"
Blair said that religious divisions are often sources of conflict and violence, and used the example of jihad, or "holy war," as a concept that has been twisted by extremists to justify terrorist acts.
Blair said that Islam was in "transition," with some Muslims approaching the new century from a perspective that is "modern in outlook, moderate in politics," while others are "in reaction against the modern world" in ways that are a "perversion of the true faith of Islam." (continued)
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Profile written by Georgiana Cohen, Office of Web Communications
Photos by Tia Chapman for University Photography
This story originally ran on Feb. 3, 2009.