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Kessel: Blair's Mideast tour


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday, following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that both sides know what the outcome of the Middle East peace process has to be and the two parties should find a way back to talks as soon as possible.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel is in Jerusalem. He filed this report.

KESSEL: British Prime Minister Tony Blair has helicoptered in this morning, a short while ago landing from Jordan where he had breakfast with King Abdullah. Blair yesterday went to Damascus and to Saudi Arabia and he's begun his meetings in Israel. And later this afternoon he'll be meeting with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat down in Gaza.

Blair calls for Mideast restraint 

Blair has said that he brings two principles to all these meetings with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders -- one, that Israel should be absolutely secure that it has a secure future alongside the future Palestinian state, which Blair said must come into existence alongside that secure Israel.

But there is a third, perhaps, unstated principle that the British prime minister is bringing to his talks both with the Israelis and Palestinians and that is the absolute need to bring calm to their conflict because both he and the United States feel that the ongoing violence between the Israelis and Palestinians is having an unsettling effect on their global coalition on the global war on terror.

And today, there's been no let-up -- that vigorous violence continuing apace. Two Palestinians were killed in a missile attack attributed to the Israeli Air Force by Palestinians. That, after six Palestinians were killed in a variety of incidents by Israeli troops in the West Bank yesterday. And this violence continues relentlessly.

Israeli troops remain in four Palestinian towns on the West Bank despite pressure from Britain and from the United States that they should withdraw. But having said that, after the Israeli tanks withdrew from two other Palestinian towns earlier in the week, there seems to be a gathering sense of a political momentum just down the road.

And there is a feeling that as the violence continues relentlessly, there is a feeling that there is a political protest just beginning to gather steam; or at least that's the way it should be going and that's the message that Blair will be conveying to the Israeli leaders and also to the Palestinian leader later today.

CNN: Is it thought right now that perhaps that on this trip that Prime Minister Blair is going to walk away with a substantial agreement between these two parties?

KESSEL: No, no, nothing quite like that. In fact, there was a good deal of wariness that perhaps Blair would come with his own plan, wariness among the Israelis that is, that he would come with some kind of plan to say we need to get back to the table now. These are the contours of the negotiations. But the British have been making clear in advance that Blair doesn't have that kind of far-reaching scope in mind during this mission. His message is, you've got to find a way to get back into the political environment, and to calm down the violence.

Shimon Peres, Israel's foreign minister, with whom Blair is meeting right now, says he's working on a detailed plan to do that. The speaker of the Palestinian Parliament said now is the time to declare a Palestinian state in principle and to work on that. So, there are all these ideas floating around now. Perhaps Blair will be in contact with the Israelis and Palestinians to feel their way out, to find some kind of formula, which will get their political dividend on the table at this time, and therefore, calm down the violence. It's a long shot, but he and the United States believe it's absolutely imperative to keep that coalition together.


• Two Palestinians die in West Bank
November 1, 2001

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