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Tony Blair: We've got to keep pushing for peace

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Full transcript of an interview with Tony Blair on MSNBC's Morning Joe:

Joe Scarborough: Great to have you here, so Palestine recognised by the UN; what does it mean?
Tony Blair: It means that the Palestinians got very frustrated by the lack of a proper peace process, so they’ve taken their case to the UN. The Israelis have now retaliated with a settlement announcement and what we’ve got to do is to try and put that behind us and get back to some form of credible negotiation, which is I think what I said the last time I was here and the time before [interrupted].
Joe Scarborough: and the time before. The Obama Administration is saying that what the UN did unilaterally was a setback. Do you agree with that?
Tony Blair: The real point is that, in the end, what delivers a Palestinian state is a negotiation. Now, the body I represent is split on the issue. Some people are in favour of the UN vote, some are against it, but the truth of it, whether you’re in favour or against it, is that the only thing that’s going to work to deliver a Palestinian state, side by side with a secure state of Israel, is peace. And as you can see from what’s happened in Gaza, what’s happening in the diplomatic scene. We’re a long way from that, at the moment, but we’ve got a chance now. I mean, The President’s been re-elected; I know he’s deeply, personally committed to this and we’ve just got to re-grip it, I’m afraid.
Joe Scarborough: What’s gone wrong over the past 6 months to a year? Why are we where we are today?
Tony Blair: It’s partly because there’s so much turmoil in the region right now. This is making a huge difference to how each side views its own prospects.
Mika Brzezinski: How would you characterise a credible negotiation, given the fact that, as long as we’ve been alive, there have been these problems that keep erupting and never, ever, ever, ever get solved?
Tony Blair: Well it’s interesting to note that occasionally we’ve come quite close, by the way. It’s just important because otherwise people think ‘well, it’s hopeless, so why bother? You’ve been trying for 30-40 years’. I always point out it was 50-60 years of failed processes in Northern Ireland before we got one that worked. Actually, back in the year 2000, again in 2008, the parties came quite close. So, you’ve got no option, in the end. A one state solution means, in the end, a nightmare for both sides. So, the only thing that works is to get back to a negotiation. I think what would make it credible, Mika, is, we’ve got to shape the negotiation.
Mika Brzezinski: The President does…
Tony Blair: Well, I think, the international community. That means, particularly, obviously the US, give it some shape, so that we can see, right, this is where it’s going to go.
Joe Scarborough: Dr. Pruzinsky says we can never sit back and let the Israelis and the Palestinians do this by themselves because we’ll be waiting forever, That, we have to come in as a strong, honest broker. Do you agree with that assessment?
Tony Blair: Yes, I do. I think, the other thing that’s really important to realise is because of what’s happening in Egypt right now, then you’ve got Syria – the region is in total turmoil. Israel’s two biggest allies, Egypt and Turkey have both changed their attitude towards Israel, obviously, in the past period. And for the Palestinians, you’ve got the division between Gaza and West Bank. The only thing I would say is, it remains hugely important, this dispute though. I mean I can’t see a peaceful region, long-term, that’s stable without the solution coming about, so even with everything that makes it difficult, you’ve got to go back and try.
Mike Barnicle: how much of an influence / impact right now at this moment have the Israeli elections with Bibi Netanyahu running for re-election in January?
Tony Blair: Israel’s a democracy. What happens in a democracy is that when elections are going on, it’s pretty dominant, so yes it does make a difference. But when I go back there for, I think, about the 90th time since leaving office, what I expect to find are two sides that are pretty far apart from each other right now.
Mark Halperin: Thank you for your hard work there and for your optimism, like our last several Presidents your optimistic that this can be solved, it must be solved. But you’ve twice mentioned that instability in the region as being something that runs counter to the prospects of a negotiated settlement. Aren’t we going to have instability now for a long time? People are now talking about Jordan coming in to being unstable, Egypt looks like it’s going to be unstable for a long time, so if instability is an enemy of a deal, don’t we have to settle it now for a good long time?
Tony Blair: Erm… that’s possible, but actually, there is another way of looking at it, which is that right now with this instability in the region, this is the time for the two sides to recognise it would be sensible to make progress and therefore give the politics of both sides a bit of insulation from what is otherwise a situation that’s, you know, it’s hard to imagine what going on in the Middle East right now and remember, one of things I always say to people about this is, Egypt 50 years ago, had a population of 30 million; today, it’s 90 million. It has tripled its population. The average age of people in Gaza, is 50% under the age of 18. So you’ve got a situation where you’ve got a young population all over that region. They’ve got to have jobs, they’ve got to have opportunity and hope for the future. This is not just about politics, it’s also about the economy and, frankly, if you could take the Israeli-Palestinian thing to a better place, you would have then a better chance of not having that dispute then get caught up in the turmoil in the region, which I think there is every prospect, if we don’t move it forward.
Mika Brzezinski: Can you characterise now a credible negotiation as it pertains to the fiscal cliff? What would it take from your point of view?
Tony Blair: Well, look I’m an outsider here, but this is how it looks like to me which is that inevitably…
Mika Brzezinski: Exactly.
Tony Blair: …everyone’s going to beat up on each other very hard until everyone realises, in fact, I mean the country will expect a deal to be done, and so there will have to be a bit of give and take on both sides. I actually thought that when I heard their positions today, even though everyone was saying ‘no, it’s miles apart,’ you kind of see how they might.
 Joe Scarborough: You can see how the outlines.
Tony Blair: And, by the way, for the rest of us on the outside, we need you to sort this, I mean, I would be more optimistic about the American economy right now than virtually any other part of the western world certainly. If you get this resolved I think you will move forwards strongly, you’ve still got enormous strengths in America, you know when we look at our situation in Europe now, you know it’s pretty troubling. But over here I think once you resolve this it will I think trigger quite a strong growth pattern for you.
Joe Scarborough: So let’s go back to how we find peace in the Middle East. I know there’s a question that you’ve been asked many times and you’ve thought about repeatedly, how do we replicate the success you’ve talked about in Northern Ireland where in the 1980s you had situations so bad, or the 70s of course with Bloody Sunday which was just horrific. In the 1980s you had the IRA trying to kill the British Prime Minister, in the 1990s you had Gerry Adams talking about peace and you know people in that region would no more believe that Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley would shake hands than they would believe that the leader of Hamas would go hug Netanyahu. How did it happen there and how can it happen in the Middle East? What did you learn through that process you had such a huge role in?
Tony Blair: Three things. First, that you’ve got to give it shape, in other words, you don’t just let them wander off and you’ve got to try and shape a successful [interrupted].
Joe Scarborough: So how did you do that with Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley? 
Tony Blair: Well you have to go between the two of them until you can work out where a potential area of agreement is and then you let that start to shape the negotiations. The second thing that’s very important is you have to calm the violence; you can never negotiate if there is active violence going on because then the bitterness is too deep. And the third thing, the thing I learnt most about actually, was you just don’t give up because you can’t. So I know it sounds sort of easy to do but, once we even got the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland we then spent 10 years implementing it, I mean it was a nightmare every step of the way but you just focus and focus down on it.
Joe Scarborough: So it seems to me that there’s not going to be and, I mean, you look at my votes in Congress, I’m pro Israel, I should have a key to Tel Aviv on my wall in my office, but we are not gonna have peace without Hamas being at the table, we are just not. You talk about, you can tell what’s going to happen, you may not be able to say this, but as a strong supporter of Israel, I know if Hamas is not there then you are going to have them killing whoever makes the deal so how do we move them from where they are, to how you moved the IRA from where they were to…
Tony Blair: They key was we managed to get an agreement that the violence stopped. So in Ireland, in order to get people in the door of the negotiating room, the violence had to stop. So, in my view, if you were able to do that and they were prepared to be a part of a negotiation for a two state solution then you might be in a different position. The trouble is at the moment it’s very hard to say to the Israelis, “negotiate with them,” in circumstances where they are firing rockets out of Gaza.
Joe Scarborough: Right, and still saying you don’t have a right to exist.
Tony Blair: Yeah, so you know, would it be better if you had a Hamas at the table? Yes. But in order to have them at the table in anything other than a totally unrealistic [interrupted]
Joe: What do they want? Other than the destruct- they know Israel is not going away. What does Hamas want?
Tony Blair: Well, to be frank, you can’t be sure. And the point about an organisation like Hamas is that, it’s probably part Palestinian nationalist, but it’s part broader Muslim brotherhood and what the agenda is sometimes is hard to decipher but the basic fact is if you want to get people round the table, there’s got to be at least an agreement that the violence stops.
Joe Scarborough: Right.
 
Mike Barnicle: You also mentioned one of the keys in Northern Ireland to negotiation success that might apply to Hamas. Gerry [Adams?] lived in a neighbourhood in Belfast called Ballymurphy, the unemployment rate approached 90% in Ballymurphy. To go to the table, I think he knew instinctively that Northern Ireland, they did not need any more martyrs they need more people employed.
Tony Blair: Correct.
Mike Barnicle: And that was very effective.
Tony Blair: Well it’s very effective and, by the way, we can do this. The Palestinian side, until recently, the West Bank economy was moving ahead. If we manage to get Gaza opening up, stop the weapons coming in to Gaza, start to open up Gaza. You’ve got, for example, we are trying to develop at the moment is you’ve got a gas field about 50 kilometres off the coast of Gaza that would make the Palestinians energy independent and would actually give them revenue for their Authority and probably allow them to export some energy. So, you know, it’s the thing that I find most frustrating sometimes is not that it’s impossible to see the solution to this but actually it is possible to see it.
Mika Brzezinski: Prime Minister Tony Blair, thank you very much, it’s good to have you back on the show.
Tony Blair: Thank you.
Mika Brzezinski: All the best to your wife. 
Tony Blair: Thank youTh

Joe Scarborough: Great to have you here, so Palestine recognised by the UN; what does it mean?

Tony Blair: It means that the Palestinians got very frustrated by the lack of a proper peace process, so they’ve taken their case to the UN. The Israelis have now retaliated with a settlement announcement and what we’ve got to do is to try and put that behind us and get back to some form of credible negotiation, which is I think what I said the last time I was here and the time before [interrupted].

Joe Scarborough: and the time before. The Obama Administration is saying that what the UN did unilaterally was a setback. Do you agree with that?

Tony Blair: The real point is that, in the end, what delivers a Palestinian state is a negotiation. Now, the body I represent is split on the issue. Some people are in favour of the UN vote, some are against it, but the truth of it, whether you’re in favour or against it, is that the only thing that’s going to work to deliver a Palestinian state, side by side with a secure state of Israel, is peace. And as you can see from what’s happened in Gaza, what’s happening in the diplomatic scene. We’re a long way from that, at the moment, but we’ve got a chance now. I mean, The President’s been re-elected; I know he’s deeply, personally committed to this and we’ve just got to re-grip it, I’m afraid.

Joe Scarborough: What’s gone wrong over the past 6 months to a year? Why are we where we are today?

Tony Blair: It’s partly because there’s so much turmoil in the region right now. This is making a huge difference to how each side views its own prospects.

Mika Brzezinski: How would you characterise a credible negotiation, given the fact that, as long as we’ve been alive, there have been these problems that keep erupting and never, ever, ever, ever get solved?

Tony Blair: Well it’s interesting to note that occasionally we’ve come quite close, by the way. It’s just important because otherwise people think ‘well, it’s hopeless, so why bother? You’ve been trying for 30-40 years’. I always point out it was 50-60 years of failed processes in Northern Ireland before we got one that worked. Actually, back in the year 2000, again in 2008, the parties came quite close. So, you’ve got no option, in the end. A one state solution means, in the end, a nightmare for both sides. So, the only thing that works is to get back to a negotiation. I think what would make it credible, Mika, is, we’ve got to shape the negotiation.

Mika Brzezinski: The President does…

Tony Blair: Well, I think, the international community. That means, particularly, obviously the US, give it some shape, so that we can see, right, this is where it’s going to go.

Joe Scarborough: Dr. Pruzinsky says we can never sit back and let the Israelis and the Palestinians do this by themselves because we’ll be waiting forever, That, we have to come in as a strong, honest broker. Do you agree with that assessment?

Tony Blair: Yes, I do. I think, the other thing that’s really important to realise is because of what’s happening in Egypt right now, then you’ve got Syria – the region is in total turmoil. Israel’s two biggest allies, Egypt and Turkey have both changed their attitude towards Israel, obviously, in the past period. And for the Palestinians, you’ve got the division between Gaza and West Bank. The only thing I would say is, it remains hugely important, this dispute though. I mean I can’t see a peaceful region, long-term, that’s stable without the solution coming about, so even with everything that makes it difficult, you’ve got to go back and try.

Mike Barnicle: how much of an influence / impact right now at this moment have the Israeli elections with Bibi Netanyahu running for re-election in January?

Tony Blair: Israel’s a democracy. What happens in a democracy is that when elections are going on, it’s pretty dominant, so yes it does make a difference. But when I go back there for, I think, about the 90th time since leaving office, what I expect to find are two sides that are pretty far apart from each other right now.

Mark Halperin: Thank you for your hard work there and for your optimism, like our last several Presidents your optimistic that this can be solved, it must be solved. But you’ve twice mentioned that instability in the region as being something that runs counter to the prospects of a negotiated settlement. Aren’t we going to have instability now for a long time? People are now talking about Jordan coming in to being unstable, Egypt looks like it’s going to be unstable for a long time, so if instability is an enemy of a deal, don’t we have to settle it now for a good long time?

Tony Blair: … that’s possible, but actually, there is another way of looking at it, which is that right now with this instability in the region, this is the time for the two sides to recognise it would be sensible to make progress and therefore give the politics of both sides a bit of insulation from what is otherwise a situation that’s, you know, it’s hard to imagine what going on in the Middle East right now and remember, one of things I always say to people about this is, Egypt 50 years ago, had a population of 30 million; today, it’s 90 million. It has tripled its population. The average age of people in Gaza, is 50% under the age of 18. So you’ve got a situation where you’ve got a young population all over that region. They’ve got to have jobs, they’ve got to have opportunity and hope for the future. This is not just about politics, it’s also about the economy and, frankly, if you could take the Israeli-Palestinian thing to a better place, you would have then a better chance of not having that dispute then get caught up in the turmoil in the region, which I think there is every prospect, if we don’t move it forward.

Mika Brzezinski: Can you characterise now a credible negotiation as it pertains to the fiscal cliff? What would it take from your point of view?

Tony Blair: Well, look I’m an outsider here, but this is how it looks like to me which is that inevitably…

Mika Brzezinski: Exactly.

Tony Blair: …everyone’s going to beat up on each other very hard until everyone realises, in fact, I mean the country will expect a deal to be done, and so there will have to be a bit of give and take on both sides. I actually thought that when I heard their positions today, even though everyone was saying ‘no, it’s miles apart,’ you kind of see how they might.

Joe Scarborough: You can see how the outlines.

Tony Blair: And, by the way, for the rest of us on the outside, we need you to sort this, I mean, I would be more optimistic about the American economy right now than virtually any other part of the western world certainly. If you get this resolved I think you will move forwards strongly, you’ve still got enormous strengths in America, you know when we look at our situation in Europe now, you know it’s pretty troubling. But over here I think once you resolve this it will I think trigger quite a strong growth pattern for you.

Joe Scarborough: So let’s go back to how we find peace in the Middle East. I know there’s a question that you’ve been asked many times and you’ve thought about repeatedly, how do we replicate the success you’ve talked about in Northern Ireland where in the 1980s you had situations so bad, or the 70s of course with Bloody Sunday which was just horrific. In the 1980s you had the IRA trying to kill the British Prime Minister, in the 1990s you had Gerry Adams talking about peace and you know people in that region would no more believe that Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley would shake hands than they would believe that the leader of Hamas would go hug Netanyahu. How did it happen there and how can it happen in the Middle East? What did you learn through that process you had such a huge role in?

Tony Blair: Three things. First, that you’ve got to give it shape, in other words, you don’t just let them wander off and you’ve got to try and shape a successful [interrupted].

Joe Scarborough: So how did you do that with Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley? 

Tony Blair: Well you have to go between the two of them until you can work out where a potential area of agreement is and then you let that start to shape the negotiations. The second thing that’s very important is you have to calm the violence; you can never negotiate if there is active violence going on because then the bitterness is too deep. And the third thing, the thing I learnt most about actually, was you just don’t give up because you can’t. So I know it sounds sort of easy to do but, once we even got the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland we then spent 10 years implementing it, I mean it was a nightmare every step of the way but you just focus and focus down on it.

Joe Scarborough: So it seems to me that there’s not going to be and, I mean, you look at my votes in Congress, I’m pro Israel, I should have a key to Tel Aviv on my wall in my office, but we are not gonna have peace without Hamas being at the table, we are just not. You talk about, you can tell what’s going to happen, you may not be able to say this, but as a strong supporter of Israel, I know if Hamas is not there then you are going to have them killing whoever makes the deal so how do we move them from where they are, to how you moved the IRA from where they were to…

Tony Blair: They key was we managed to get an agreement that the violence stopped. So in Ireland, in order to get people in the door of the negotiating room, the violence had to stop. So, in my view, if you were able to do that and they were prepared to be a part of a negotiation for a two state solution then you might be in a different position. The trouble is at the moment it’s very hard to say to the Israelis, “negotiate with them,” in circumstances where they are firing rockets out of Gaza.

Joe Scarborough: Right, and still saying you don’t have a right to exist.

Tony Blair: Yeah, so you know, would it be better if you had a Hamas at the table? Yes. But in order to have them at the table in anything other than a totally unrealistic [interrupted]

Joe: What do they want? Other than the destruct- they know Israel is not going away. What does Hamas want?

Tony Blair: Well, to be frank, you can’t be sure. And the point about an organisation like Hamas is that, it’s probably part Palestinian nationalist, but it’s part broader Muslim brotherhood and what the agenda is sometimes is hard to decipher but the basic fact is if you want to get people round the table, there’s got to be at least an agreement that the violence stops.

Joe Scarborough: Right.

Mike Barnicle: You also mentioned one of the keys in Northern Ireland to negotiation success that might apply to Hamas. Gerry [Adams?] lived in a neighbourhood in Belfast called Ballymurphy, the unemployment rate approached 90% in Ballymurphy. To go to the table, I think he knew instinctively that Northern Ireland, they did not need any more martyrs they need more people employed.

Tony Blair: Correct.

Mike Barnicle: And that was very effective.

Tony Blair: Well it’s very effective and, by the way, we can do this. The Palestinian side, until recently, the West Bank economy was moving ahead. If we manage to get Gaza opening up, stop the weapons coming in to Gaza, start to open up Gaza. You’ve got, for example, we are trying to develop at the moment is you’ve got a gas field about 50 kilometres off the coast of Gaza that would make the Palestinians energy independent and would actually give them revenue for their Authority and probably allow them to export some energy. So, you know, it’s the thing that I find most frustrating sometimes is not that it’s impossible to see the solution to this but actually it is possible to see it.

Mika Brzezinski: Prime Minister Tony Blair, thank you very much, it’s good to have you back on the show.

Tony Blair: Thank you.

Mika Brzezinski: All the best to your wife. 

Tony Blair: Thank you

-ends-