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Tony Blair quits ‘doomed’ stint as Mideast peace envoy

“Tony Blair has decided to step aside from his role as Quartet Representative,” the source said in an email

Peter Harrison

Published: Updated:

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair Wednesday stood down as the Middle East peace envoy after eight years in the role, which started with promise of a peaceful outcome, but has ended with even more division, analysts say.

Critics say Blair’s departure is long overdue, and that little was achieved during his time in the role, as he failed to challenge Israel on the issue of the occupation of Gaza.

A source close to Blair’s office told Al Arabiya News in a statement: “As has been widely known since earlier in the year, Tony Blair has decided to step aside from his role as Quartet Representative. He has today written to Ban Ki-Moon to formally confirm that he will relinquish his role when he has fulfilled his outstanding commitments as Quartet Representative next month.

“He remains fully committed to assisting the international community in its work with Israel and the Palestinians to bring about progress on the two-state solution. He believes that he can best support these efforts through working with the key regional players, the USA, the EU and others, without any formal role. He will therefore remain active on the issues and in the region.”

Much of the criticism over Blair’s efforts has been surrounding his apparent reluctance to challenge the Israelis over their unwillingness to agree to a two-state solution.

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) told Al Arabiya News: “The most important thing about what [happens] next is that the international community needs a viable effective peace process and in order to get that they will also require an envoy, but with a much more powerful mandate from the very restricted one that Blair had himself.”

‘Long overdue’

And he said of Blair’s resignation: “It’s long overdue. Eight years is probably too long in any diplomatic envoy role. But during that eight years he failed to challenge the occupation, the blockade of Gaza, or any of the iniquities in this long running conflict.”

He said that Blair was a “status quo figure when drastic change was needed,” adding that “he never challenged the basic power structure between Israel and the Palestinians – that of an occupier to the occupied, or blockader to the blockaded.”

Which he said was vital if there was going to be an end to the conflict.

Doyle added: “Palestinians have to be independent with their own viable state, but Blair did very little to challenge a power structure that prevented the Palestinians from realizing that ambition.”

He said that Blair had brought to the role a wealth of experience and a ‘major contacts book’ getting him audiences with ‘presidents, kings, prime ministers’ that other envoys might have struggled in gaining access to.

But he said Blair “was always held back by his history with the region, the Iraq war of 2003 and an unwillingness to challenge the Israeli government’s position in this conflict.”

Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, said that Blair’s initial appointment as peace envoy had raised high hopes in the international community, which were dashed after his perceived “tilt” towards the Israeli side.

“At the time of his appointment, Obama was hopeful that he [Blair] could bring about an historic peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But it become clear that this was wishful thinking,” Khashan said.

Then, after Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu the former PM’s mission had “simply evaporated.”

Welcome exit

The former British politician’s exit from the role has even been welcomed by some.

A top Palestinian official said he was “happy” Blair was leaving, accusing him of ineffectiveness and caving in to Israeli pressure.

“I’m happy that Tony Blair is leaving. For the entire eight years, Tony Blair didn’t make any contribution to Palestine,” Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official told the Associated Press. “He never proposed anything that the Israelis didn’t agree to, and the entire time he only represented himself. And he worked only to satisfy the Israelis and the Americans.”

Blair was appointed to the role by the Quartet - which includes the U.S., the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - in 2007 with the goal of helping develop the Palestinian economy and institutions.

The mission was meant to prepare the groundwork for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a peace agreement. Instead he soon found himself fighting small battles with Israel over the movement of Palestinian goods and people in the West Bank.

Blair also found himself up against the challenges of a Gaza Strip ruled by the Hamas militant group and blockaded by Israel and Egypt. Hamas, which is shunned as a terrorist group by the U.S. and EU, seized control of Gaza from the rival government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shortly before Blair took office.

At first then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas were conducting a round of peace talks that both sides have said made significant progress. But those talks ultimately failed, and since Netanyahu’s election in 2009, repeated attempts at reviving talks have flopped.

Despite claims that Blair failed to challenge the Israeli government over its refusal to reach an agreement, sources close to his office said this had been hindered by the limitations of the role, which was ultimately that of “supporting the Palestinian people on economic development and institution building.”

But the source told Al Arabiya that despite the political constraints much was still achieved.

The source said: “Tony Blair is of the view that the cause of a viable and independent Palestinian State alongside a secure and recognised State of Israel is essential to both peoples, to the region and to the wider world. He also believes an entirely new approach is needed to obtain it.

“He will concentrate on strengthening relations between Israel and the wider Arab world drawing on his considerable experience and the relationships he has built in the region to advance this work. He believes that this could help underpin international efforts to end the ongoing impasse in the peace process.”

He added: “He will also focus on encouraging Israel to take measures which will dramatically improve the daily lives of Palestinians in Gaza. He believes that achieving this progress on the ground is an essential prerequisite to strengthening broader Arab-Israeli relations.”


(With AP)