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October 03, 2002



Israel 'disturbed' by Blair speech


Blair's comments came in a speech to his party

Israeli cabinet ministers have expressed concern at a speech by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in which he said that the obligation to observe United Nations resolutions applies to Israel "as much as it does to Iraq".


Negotiations must have explicitly as their aims: an Israeli state free from terror, recognised by the Arab world, and a viable Palestinian state based on the boundaries of 1967
In an address to his ruling Labour party, Mr Blair also said that he supported a viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, alongside a secure and recognised Israeli state.

Israeli cabinet minister Danny Naveh, a member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing Likud party, said Wednesday that he was "disturbed" by the speech.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister, said Mr Blair's remarks had to be understood in their context - an attempt to gain support within his party for his policy on Iraq.

Tony Blair was speaking to the annual meeting of the Labour Party, which refuses to support his policy toward Iraq

Another minister, Dan Meridor, said Israel was ready to abide by all UN resolutions as long as they established the "secure and recognised borders of Israel before proceeding to a withdrawal".

Senior Palestinian minister Saeb Erekat criticised the UK prime minister's words as too vague.

"I think it's good for Prime Minister Blair to say that even Israel needs to implement Security Council resolutions," Mr Erekat said.

"What we need to see from Mr Blair is to specify the mechanism and timeline [for an Israeli withdrawal]."

Reviving talks

At the British Labour Party's annual conference, Mr Blair said: "I agree UN resolutions should apply here [to Israel] as much as to Iraq. But they don't just apply to Israel, they apply to all parties."

Mr Blair committed his government to trying to revive final-status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians by the end of this year.

"What is happening in the Middle East now is ugly and wrong - the Palestinians living in increasingly abject conditions, humiliated and hopeless, and Israeli civilians brutally murdered.

"[The negotiations] must have explicitly as their aims: an Israeli state free from terror, recognised by the Arab world, and a viable Palestinian state based on the boundaries of 1967," the prime minister said.

The UK Government's current position is that any Mid-East talks would take place under the auspices of "the quartet" - officials from US, the EU, Russia and the UN - which meets regularly and recently proposed a "road map" for peace.

However, there is speculation in the British press that Mr Blair is ready to take a far more prominent role in the search for Middle East peace and that he might even try to host a conference

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