Tony Blair: Gaza Cease-fire 'Hangs in the Balance'

"You can debate about proportion or not; the fact is that it's very hard to fight a conflict that is in a small space, possibly the most densely populated space in the world and where Hamas deliberately, of course, put their military infrastructure in civilian areas. So you're never going to have a conflict where you're not going to have civilian casualties. Now should Israel do everything that they possibly can to avoid that? Yes. Can we do more on the humanitarian side? Of course. And we must. But in the end the most important thing is to stop the conflict."

When asked if he believes that Israel has gone over the line, Blair said, "I think what I'm really saying is that there is no line. The only answer is to stop the conflict."

As for the humanitarian situation, Blair said that based on his conversations with United Nations officials, "the suffering is terrible" in Gaza.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gathered with leaders of 49 nations in Annapolis, Md., last year to address the peace process and predicted a two-state solution would be reached before the end of the Bush administration.

Blair said that despite the current bloodshed, the two sides had moved forward in terms of addressing some of the issues "in real detail" in the past year and that other countries in the region have become more involved in the process.

Peace is achievable, Blair said, "because the world outside of Israel and Palestine, particularly the Arab world, has a huge interest in resolving this dispute. ... Because their real fear is that what they see is an attempt by Iran and by extreme elements in the Arab and Muslim world to, as it were, create this movement of extremism which in many ways is based on a perversion of Islam throughout the whole region and the broader world and they see resolving the Israeli Palestine question as an important part of pushing that movement back."

'You Can't Disengage From This Problem'

When asked, given the economic conditions at home, why Americans should care about the situation in the Middle East, Blair said that "we are involved.

"That's what they say in Britain too, and they say it in France and they say it in Germany and Spain and all over the world. And the answer, I'm afraid, is very simple," he said. "We are involved and when Sept. 11 happened here in America, it didn't start here in America, it started with people thousands of miles away in places we barely had heard of who were being trained in camps as part of this broader extremist movement so whether we like it or not, they aren't going to leave us alone so we're going to have to find the right combination of hard power and also soft power to deal with it."

Blair said that U.S. engagement in the peace process is crucial to success.

"You can't disengage from this problem because it's there and it matters," he said. "Now, to be fair, in the first Bush term right after the failure of the peace attempts at the end of the Clinton administration and then the uprising on the Palestinian side, it all became extremely difficult. But actually what the engagement over the last 18 months has shown is that engagement is the only way that this works."

The former prime minister praised Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton's experience and "complete knowledge and handle on this problem."

"I'm sure she is of exactly of the same view that I've been expressing to you," he said.

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