Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Saturday that he hoped peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians will resume in the coming weeks after negotiations stalled over Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Blair, who has served as the leader of the so-called Quartet of Mideast peacemakers since 2007, spoke to The Associated Press in an interview Saturday in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.
He said special US Mideast envoy George Mitchell has made progress in attempting to resume negotiations between the two sides. However, he cautioned that bringing both sides back to peace talks depended on more than just the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians say there is no point in negotiating while Israel expands the settlements.
"Settlements are important, but they're not the only issue," Blair said. "The real question is can we provide Israel with security and the Palestinians with a genuine, credible belief that they will have a viable state."
Blair has served since June 2007 as leader of the Quartet, which includes the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. He said the early support of US President Barack Obama for resuming the peace process helped.
"He remains deeply committed and the fact that he started the Middle East process right at the beginning of his presidency is a big help," Blair said. "He's got a lot of time now to get this thing moving. I think his leadership is a very hopeful sign."
Blair said that easing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians also would help Nigeria, Africa's most populous nations that's split between a Muslim north and a Christian south, by showing two faiths with a violent past can make peace with each other. Violence between the two faiths in Nigeria, often sparked by political infighting, has killed thousands in the last decade.
Blair, who launched the Tony Blair Faith Foundation after leaving office, attended an event Saturday highlighting a new effort between Christian and Muslim leaders to distribute mosquito nets in a country ravaged by malaria. The former prime minister pointed to that cooperation as a hopeful sign in the nation of 150 million people.
"In the end, Nigeria's going to have to work this out for itself," he said. "But the benefit of interfaith action, such as this against malaria, is you've got Christians and Muslims sitting down and working together. It's got to be better than fighting with each other."