Blair in landmark talks with Jewish settlers
( AFP ) - International Middle East envoy Tony Blair held landmark talks with Jewish settler representatives this week, their main lobby group announced on Saturday.
"It's the first time that an international figure of this rank has sat down with settler representatives," the Yesha Council said.
The meeting with Yesha secretary general Danny Dayan took place in a Jerusalem hotel and also involved members of the Israeli parliament from the religious and ultra-nationalist right as well as one from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's centre-right Kadima party.
The settler representatives told Blair that Olmert had no mandate to negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinians that required the dismantling of settlements in the occupied West Bank, Israeli participants in the meeting said.
The former British premier retorted that "nothing can stop the relaunching of the peace process."
His meeting with the settlers came hot on the heels of a first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories by US President George W. Bush during which he said he was "very hopeful" that a final peace deal could be reached before he leaves office in January next year.
Blair represents the so-called Quartet of major players in the Middle East peace process -- the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, as well as the United States.
Washington has made clear that any peace agreement will have to take into account realities on the ground although the international community regards all settlements on occupied land as illegal.
Some 470,000 Jewish settlers have made their homes in the occupied West Bank since Israel seized the territory in 1967, 200,000 of them in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.