Mideast Envoy Tony Blair Working to Avoid 'Showdown' Over Palestinian Statehood

Former British leader pushing framework to revive Mideast peace negotiations.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 18, 2011— -- Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Quartet's special envoy to the Middle East, said he is continuing to work to avert a showdown at the United Nations this week over Palestinian statehood, hoping to craft "a framework of reference" for renewing peace process negotiations.

"What we will be looking for over the next few days, is a way of putting together something that allows their claims and legitimate aspirations for statehood to be recognized while actually renewing the only thing that's going to produce a state, which is a negotiation directly between the two sides," Blair told "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview.

"I think there is a way of avoiding a confrontation or a showdown," Blair said. "The only way in the end we are going to get a Palestinian state, and this week is all about advancing Palestinian statehood, the only way to do it ultimately is through negotiation."

Frustrated with a stalled peace process, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week will ask the United Nations to admit Palestine as a state.

The United States has vowed to use its Security Council veto to block the Palestinians' bid for official U.N. membership, but Abbas has pledged to take the matter to the U.N. General Assembly. That body is expected to overwhelmingly approve Palestine as an observer state, where it's now an observer entity.

The largely symbolic change would allow Palestinians to gain access to the International Criminal Court, where it could pursue charges against Israelis. It would not affect Israel's borders or displace any of the some 500,000 Israeli settlers now living in the Palestinian territories.

But the United States is concerned that the move could crush any chance of further negotiations and exacerbate anti-American sentiment in the region.

While Blair said the Palestinians are entitled to go to the United Nations over statehood, he said he hopes agreeing on a framework for reviving negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis will create "a less confrontational atmosphere" and move the long-dormant peace process forward.

"We're trying to put together, in the Quartet body, that's the body of the international community, a statement that is essentially a framework of reference for the negotiations," Blair said, calling it still a "work in progress." "So, it sets out … where we want to go on issues like borders. It describes all the main issues to be negotiated. And I think what's going to be really important is also to give some sense of a time frame ... for a successful negotiation.

"We haven't had proper negotiations now for really quite a long time," Blair said. "And what that means is that both sides become very frustrated with this situation. Both sides look for ways of advancing their position unilaterally rather than bilaterally or multilaterally ... even these difficult issues like settlements and so on, the only way of resolving them is to sit down and negotiate borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, the core issues at stake here."

In addition to the U.S. Security Council veto threat, members of Congress have said they are also considering cutting off funding for Palestinian security forces if they go forward with the statehood push.

Blair said he hopes "we can avoid that situation."

"When I'm there on the West Bank, I see what this American money actually does," said Blair, who says he has traveled to the region 71 times since leaving office. "And it provides support for security, on the Palestinian side, for institutions and for the economy, which is hugely important to ... trying to build the state from the bottom up."

Former President Bill Clinton echoed Blair's concern, saying while there's "a lot of frustration around this issue," he does not support calls for Congress to cut off Palestinian security funding.

"I think that everybody knows the U.S. Congress is the most pro-Israel parliamentary body in the world. They don't have to demonstrate that," Clinton said. "I think as this unfolds, the worst thing we could do is to tie the administration's hands."

Clinton agreed with Blair that reviving a framework for peace negotiations was the only way to avert a showdown at the United Nations over statehood, which he called "an act of frustration on the part of the Palestinians."

"The American government has agreed with Israel that there's no way the U.N. can impose a peace plan, and therefore the peace plan has to be the subject of negotiations," Clinton said. "We're going to stick by Israel and its security, but we need to give them the ability to bring the Palestinians back into a negotiated position."

"It might be good politics for the Palestinians with their people and the Israelis with theirs to have this standoff, but the most important thing is to have good-faith negotiations," Clinton added.