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Blair warns time is of the essence for Mideast peace talks

By Kevin Flower, CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief
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Blair: Time is essence for peace talks
  • Blair says work is going on behind the scenes to revive direct negotiations
  • Talks broke down over continued settlement building by the Israelis
  • The Palestinians want to reinstate the pre-1967 borders
  • Tony Blair
  • Middle East
  • Israel
  • Palestine

Jerusalem (CNN) -- If substantial talks don't begin soon between Israel and the Palestinians, all parties will face "profound trouble," the Middle East Quartet's special representative warned Tuesday.

"We are talking about weeks, rather than months, for this process now to be rehabilitated and put back on track," Tony Blair told CNN. "If we don't go back and give credibility to this process in a meaningful way... we are going to be in genuine and profound trouble."

The former British prime minister is in the region meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, in his role as the Quartet representative. The United States, United Nations, Russia and the European Union make up the group.

Blair said there was a "huge amount of work" going on behind the scenes to revive direct negotiations between the two sides. Talks broke down in September over the issue of continued Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank. He acknowledged that the level of trust between the two sides was low, but said it was still possible to "get the thing back together again."

In December, the Obama administration announced it was abandoning efforts to persuade Israel to renew a partial settlement freeze as a pre-condition for jump-starting the talks, and said it would focus instead on separate talks with each side in an effort to reach some sort of framework peace agreement.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has initiated a campaign to gain international recognition of a Palestinian state based on border lines that existed prior to the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Palestinians are also campaigning for a resolution from the U.N. Security Council condemning Israel's continued settlement building. Both the Israeli and American governments have opposed such moves, insisting that the only way forward is through continued negotiations.

Blair said that while such a strategy could exert a measure of pressure on Israel, "the trouble with unilateral moves is that they are never as effective as agreed moves."

The United States is still an effective mediator between the two sides, despite the failure to keep the talks alive, Blair said.

The Obama administration is "calibrating quite deliberately... the pressure they want to exert on both parties to get this to succeed with also finding a way forward that meets the political reality of the situation," the former prime minister explained.