Washington: Tony Blair's effort to revive the Middle East peace process will be doomed unless the West begins talking to the militant group Hamas, according to the man who is expected to advise the former prime minister.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Daniel Levy warned that Al Qaida could win new supporters among disaffected Palestinians unless Hamas - regarded by Israel, America and other western countries as a terrorist group - is allowed "inside the tent".
Levy, 39, a former Israeli peace negotiator and the son of Blair's former Middle East envoy, Lord Levy, said the West's effort to bolster the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, could not work if it ignored Hamas's control of Gaza, part of the Palestinian territory.
He claimed that Blair's record in Northern Ireland meant he understood the need to talk to extremists.
"For any process to have sustainability, legitimacy, and to guarantee security, it will have to be inclusive, not divisive, and to bring in Hamas over time," he said.
"Mr Blair, with his Northern Ireland experience, may understand this better than most."
Blair will today make his first trip to the region since he was appointed envoy by the quartet of powers -America, the EU, the UN and Russia - who are overseeing the peace process. Levy said America would be better off emulating its policy in Iraq where its soldiers are working against Al Qaida with Sunni insurgents "who were shooting Americans two months ago".
Calling Hamas a potential "bulwark against Al Qaida", he said he thought Hamas could find a way of accepting the reality of Israel. "We don't need them to be Zionists," he said. Blair will visit Jordan briefly today to meet Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib, officials said. Blair and Khatib will discuss "ways to reactivate the Middle East peace process," they said.
Trust vote: Deputies fail to ratify Fayyad government
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad had to abandon his attempt to present his government for a confidence vote yesterday when his own supporters boycotted the session over a dispute with Hamas.
Citing the continued deadlock, Abbas plans to issue decrees this week calling for early parliamentary and presidential elections.
"I wanted to present my government to the legislative council (parliament) in line with the law, but apparently it has failed to implement this constitutional duty," Fayyad told Reuters.