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Blair on Mideast: We must move forward

Tony Blair (center) surrounded by bodyguards at the opening Tuesday of a crossing between Israel and the West Bank.
Tony Blair (center) surrounded by bodyguards at the opening Tuesday of a crossing between Israel and the West Bank.

(CNN) -- Talks between the Israelis and Palestinians must be "credible" in order to achieve peace in the region and unlock the economic potential of a future Palestinian state, British leader-turned-Mideast envoy Tony Blair said Tuesday.

"I know everyone looks at this situation at the moment, and says, 'Well, it's stalled, it's difficult, how are we going to make it move forward?'" Blair told CNN's "Amanpour" show.

"It is possible to move this forward and, furthermore, we have no option but to carry on trying to do so."

Blair spoke from the West Bank on a visit focusing on the future of the Palestinian economy and the stalled peace process.

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On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for an immediate resumption of peace talks with Palestinians, hours before he met with President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu said he would work for a lasting peace with the Palestinians, promising "great concessions" as long as they don't compromise Israel's security.

Blair stressed that any future negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians must be immediately followed by "a series of practical, on-the-ground steps" in order to give the talks credibility.

"I'm not saying it's not difficult ... but there is no doubt at all that if politicians can sort of summon up the will to find a way through this, we can do it," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just left the Middle East, where she failed to persuade Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resume talks with Israel until it agrees to a complete freeze of settlement construction.

Clinton angered Palestinians and Arabs when she praised Israel's agreement to limit settlement-building as "unprecedented." She later clarified that the United States "does not accept the legitimacy" of building Israeli housing on occupied Palestinian land.

In his remarks on Monday, Netanyahu pledged more steps to improve economic conditions in Palestinian areas, but made no new proposals on curbing settlement construction.

Blair said he met with Palestinian farmers, olive growers, and business leaders during his trip to the West Bank, and found a booming economy with "absolutely enormous" potential to expand its tourism sector.

"The Palestinian economy here on the West Bank is actually growing strongly," Blair said. "We just made a major opening now which will allow better trade between Arab-Israelis and Palestinians in the city of Jenin ... we just launched a second mobile telephony company.

"There are good things happening as well, but obviously it's important we find a way to relaunch and restart the political negotiation," he added.