Report: Blair Presented New Middle East Peace Plan To Bush

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials are downplaying a report in a Palestinian newspaper that says the European Union is offering a new Middle East peace initiative. British Prime Minister Tony Blair reportedly presented the plan to President Bush in Washington on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the PA newspaper Al-Ayam quoted senior Palestinian sources as saying that the EU had prepared a new plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Blair met with Bush in a lightening visit to Washington to brief the American leader on his trip to the Middle East last week. While in the region, Blair met with several Arab leaders in discussions focused on maintaining support for the U.S. led coalition against terror.

The British prime minister is said to believe that a new U.S. thrust for Middle East peace is necessary if the West wants to retain the support of so-called moderate Arab states in its coalition against terror.

But Bush said he had "no doubt" that the al-Qaida terrorist network of Osama bin Laden would be brought to justice, whether or not there is peace in the Middle East.

While here, Blair also met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. He called for "restraint on all sides" and urged the PA leader to combat terrorism. He also reiterated his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Nevertheless, Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Thursday that the Palestinians had no specific knowledge about a new European plan.

"We heard about it on the news," Erekat said in a telephone interview.

When Blair was in the Middle East last week, he spoke generally about a European initiative, Erekat said. He added that he hoped the Europeans would present a plan.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it did not know of any knew initiative. The most important thing is to implement what has already been agreed upon, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Noam Katz.

"I don't know about any [new] concrete ideas from the UK," Katz said. "The most important thing is to use existing and agreed upon mechanisms that were adopted by both sides."

According to Katz, the problem is not about agreement but about implementation.
There is a gap between what the Palestinians say and what they actually do, he said.

According to Al-Ayam, there are two components to the peace plan: diplomatic and security.

The security component would involve the implementation of the ceasefire understanding brokered by CIA chief George Tenet in June, which was agreed to by both Israel and the PA, but never took hold. Further it reportedly includes a call for the implementation of the Mitchell committee recommendations, to restore calm and renew negotiations, under the auspices of an international observer force.

The diplomatic initiative would include the establishment of a Palestinian state, an end to what the Palestinians call the Israeli occupation of disputed territories, a just solution to the problem of refugees and the renewal of negotiations based on implementation of existing agreements and United Nations resolutions, the paper said.

Arafat advisor Nabil Sha'ath was quoted as saying that the Europeans had already presented the plan to the Palestinians and they welcomed it.

Sha'ath was due to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday and was expecting to hear the American response to the plan.

Israeli diplomatic sources in Jerusalem were quoted as saying that Israel still rejects direct European involvement in the peace process, because of what is perceived as a pro-Palestinian bias in Europe.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is due to present his own new initiative to Sharon on Friday. According to media reports, that plan includes the phased establishment of a Palestinian state, starting in the Gaza Strip first.