Palestinians happy to see Tony Blair go

PA officials say outgoing Mideast Quartet envoy was ‘totally biased’ in Israel’s favor

Former British prime minister Tony Blair arrives at St. Paul's Cathedral in central London, March 13, 2015. (AFP / BEN STANSALL)
Former British prime minister Tony Blair arrives at St. Paul's Cathedral in central London, March 13, 2015. (AFP / BEN STANSALL)

RAMALLAH (AFP) — Tony’s Blair resignation as Middle East peace envoy has been widely welcomed by Palestinians who say his term was useless, and even some Israelis agree he failed to accomplish much.

For the past eight years the former British prime minister had been tasked by the Mideast Quartet to help mediate a peaceful settlement to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — had appointed him to support the Palestinian economy and institutions in preparation for eventual statehood.

But the Quartet’s goal of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel has not been met, and talks between the two sides have been frozen since April 2014.

Palestinians accuse Blair of siding with Israel at their expense, and unleashed a torrent of criticism against him.

“He did nothing for the Palestinian cause but was used by Israel to justify its occupation and settlement policy,” Palestinian negotiator Mohammad Shtayyeh said.

“We are happy that Tony Blair is going. He should have resigned a long time ago.”

Blair tendered his resignation to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and sources close to him say he would step down officially next month from his unpaid position.

‘He was totally biased’

“He was not the Quartet’s envoy, he was Israel’s envoy and the envoy of the United States. He was totally biased,” said Samir Awad, a political science professor at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank.

Nabil Shaath, a senior member of Fatah, the main component of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said Blair did “nothing for the Palestinians during eight years.”

Blair had no formal role in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but his mission included organizing international aid for the Palestinians and steering projects to support their economy.

The aim was to help build Palestinian institutions ahead of the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state.

But even on that track he did not impress the Palestinians, and some Israelis agree that Blair’s mission achieved few results.

Blair did not exploit “his human and personal potential” to help bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians, said Tamar Hermann, a professor at Israel’s Open University.

The envoy only managed to secure “a few isolated economic initiatives”, he said.

Ali Jarbawi, a Palestinian former cabinet minister, agreed, saying Blair’s “only success” was the opening of the Jalameh crossing between Israel and the northern West Bank.

“To achieve results, he should have confronted Israel and insisted that [more] crossing points be open, that movement [in the West Bank] be facilitated, that the Gaza blockade be lifted, but he did not want that.”

Doomed from the start

Officially, Blair won praise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who cited his “big efforts” for the sake of peace.

But Yossi Alpher, an adviser to former premier Ehud Barak during US-brokered peace talks at Camp David in 2000, said Blair’s assignment was doomed from the start.

“Tony Blair is one of those international political figures, like US Secretary of State John Kerry, who wrongly believe that there is a clear solution to the conflict,” said Alpher.

He said it was a mistake to think that by trying to build up the Palestinian economy there could be progress at the negotiating table.

“This conflict is first and foremost a political one, and ideological. Nothing to do with economics,” he said.

In criticizing Blair, Palestinian officials have also echoed Israeli and British media reports which claimed that he stacked up huge bills on his trips to the Middle East.

“He did not live in Palestine but would only come every two or three months for a photo op,” said Shtayyeh, adding that he had “huge expense accounts for a mission which failed to push things forward, not even by an inch.”

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