Tony Blair says Hamas can be coaxed to relent on Israel

(JTA) – Tony Blair, the former envoy for the Middle East Quartet, said Hamas can be persuaded to give up its fierce opposition to the State of Israel’s existence.

Speaking at the Haaretz Peace Conference in Tel Aviv on Thursday, Blair also said that dialogue with the Islamist group that rules Gaza was “worth trying” and that conditions have improved for a peace deal involving moderate Arab states, the Times of Israel reported.

Regional alliances are more possible now than in the past, he said, noting that moderate Arab states share Israel’s concerns about Iran and the Islamic State.

“I have very similar conversations in Israel [as] I do in the rest of the region,” said Blair, a former British prime minister.

The Quartet is the diplomatic grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations that guides the Middle East peace process.

Also at the Haaretz conference, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin urged the Jewish state to take steps to strengthen ties between Palestinians and Israelis, although he did not advocate a two-state solution.

It is in Israel’s interest to improve Palestinian infrastructure and boost economic and educational ties between the two nations, Rivlin said, noting that such steps “should have started yesterday.”

Palestinians “aren’t going anywhere, just as we believe that we aren’t going anywhere,” Rivlin said, adding, “No separation or fence will make them disappear. Separation won’t make them invisible, or not hostile, just as ‘greater Israel’ won’t make them our friends.”

At the conference, Immigration Minister Zeev Elkin echoed many of Rivlin’s statements, but was heckled when he said, “The dreams of dividing Jerusalem are part of the Israeli discourse, but those who know about it in depth understand it’s impossible to divide it and that it’s not interested in being divided.”

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