An alliance of foreign leaders led by former British prime minister Tony Blair was key to the failed effort to secure a national unity government between Likud and the Zionist Union, Channel 10 news and Haaretz reported Wednesday night.
Chief among these foreign players was Blair, who had been seeking to jump-start the moribund peace process since leaving his position as Mideast Quartet envoy, Haaretz reported. Blair was said to have been coordinating his actions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, US Secretary of State John Kerry and even Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
It was this effort by Blair to bring about a new peace-oriented ruling coalition in Israel that led Sissi to proclaim his belief in recent days that there was a “real opportunity” for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, the reports said.
Blair declared his intent to renew peace efforts late last year, saying his experience and network of contacts made during eight years of Mideast diplomacy would help him.
Haaretz said the diplomat had been visiting the region every 2-3 weeks in recent months, and held multiple meetings with Herzog and Netanyahu, where he updated them on the willingness of Arab leaders to support a new peace initiative and to improve relations with Israel in tandem.
The report added that Blair increasingly assessed that Israel’s right-wing government would remain relatively stable for the next few years, and so focused his efforts on bringing the center-left Zionist Union into the fold, seeing its entry into the coalition as the only viable path to new peace talks.
In recent weeks Blair had reportedly been closely involved in negotiations between Herzog and Netanyahu in a bid to help them build a joint diplomatic agenda. He was also coordinating these moves with the US through Kerry.
But while the Zionist Union’s entry into the government had seemed an imminent possibility early this week, by Tuesday night the talks had broken down. Herzog claimed the premier balked at his insistence that support for a two-state solution be included in a written agreement. Netanyahu is said to have worried that fierce opposition to Herzog’s unity bid within his own party would make it difficult to govern such a coalition.
Whatever the reasons, on Wednesday afternoon Netanyahu announced parallel negotiations with hawkish opposition party Yisrael Beytenu, led by Avigdor Liberman. Herzog immediately said he would not agree to negotiate if Liberman’s party was also on the table.
Blair, who only days ago may have envisioned Herzog as foreign minister in a far more centrist government, was instead faced with the prospect of an Israel pivoting even further to the right, with the combative Liberman said to have all but secured the Defense Ministry for himself. Months of efforts had apparently gone up in flames.
Herzog told reporters on Wednesday night that Netanyahu had passed up “a historic chance” to bring about a breakthrough in the peace process. He vowed Wednesday to remain as opposition leader and fight the ruling government, despite growing calls from inside his own party for him to quit over the debacle.
Asked about the report on Wednesday night, a spokeswoman for Blair declined to comment.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.