As western powers ready themselves for yet another round of negotiations with Iran, Quartet Middle East envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair told the Presidential Conference in Yerushalayim that a nuclear-armed Iran would be worse than a military strike to stop them.
“No one wants military action, but a nuclear armed Iran is the worst choice, and we must not make it,” Blair said.
“We have to be prepared to be strong in defense of our values; that is why Iran is a threat, and we must be determined to confront it.”
Blair was part of the gathering of former high officials who took turns sounding off on Israeli policy in an increasingly volatile Mideast at the Presidential Conference in Yerushalayim on Wednesday.
Prospects of peace with the Palestinians were also very much on the agenda at the conference, which will also see discussion of business and technology. Blair stressed the urgency of the matter, stating: “Some say two states is a fantasy; the fantasy is thinking one state is sustainable or consistent with Israeli values.” He added that the two-state solution has a short window of opportunity that “could close, maybe forever.”
Ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan captured headlines on Wednesday with his latest peace urgings.
Dagan called for Israel to engage in “serious” negotiations with the Palestinians. “To say that this is not possible is very damaging to Israel,” he said. “There are many serious questions and it will take time to solve them. These issues can’t be solved through direct talks with the Palestinians, but there is a need to get the Arab League involved.”
He said the recently dusted-off Arab League initiative could be a starting point.
“There are dramatic changes in the region,” he said “I think Israel has a rare opportunity to forge various alliances in the region. I don’t like every aspect of the Arab Peace Initiative, but the need to negotiate is crucial in my view. The Arab League today is less hostile to Israel. The Arab Initiative should form the basis of renewed negotiations.”
Other participants were less sanguine. Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. Itamar Rabinovitch dismissed the Arab Initiative as “all talk.” Rabinovitch, who took part in Israeli peace negotiations with Syria in the 1990s, said that “the time is not ripe for a peace agreement with the Palestinians.”
Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, argued that the importance of Israeli construction in Yehudah and Shomron has been exaggerated.
Gold, also a former adviser to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, told a panel of former diplomatic and security chiefs that “there are far more important issues affecting the peace process than [building in Yehudah and Shomron].”He pointed that the Oslo Accords were signed without a building freeze, which now constitutes a Palestinian precondition for a resumption of peace talks.
The conference is titled “Facing Tomorrow,” and leadership is one of the themes. In his opening address, conference host Shimon Peres told a packed auditorium:
“Leaders today should not lead; they should agree to be led by the people.”
The conference runs through Thursday.