The Quartet’s envoy to the Middle East, Tony Blair, is trying to improve his perpetually tarnished image and convince the world that his job actually matters. Speaking at the International Conference on Economic Regional Cooperation in Tel Aviv, he said that he was optimistic about the prospects for peace in the region. He said that he was working to get the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table and the only way to resolve the conflict was the creation of a viable Palestinian state (How many times have we heard this before?). Tony Blair was hosted at the conference by Silvan Shalom, the Deputy Prime Minister in an Israeli government which no longer bothers to hide its contempt for the “peace process” and the very idea of peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians and its opposition to the creation of anything resembling a viable Palestinian state.
Tony Blair’s latest intervention comes at a time when even President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority seem to have given up on the peace process. For years, they bent over backwards to please the Israelis and the West, arresting Palestinians who believed in resistance to the Israeli occupation, engaging in armed conflict with Hamas after it won democratic elections, and offering unpalatable concessions to the Israelis which caused it great embarrassment when they were leaked. All they got in return was a deepening of the occupation and the expansion of settlements.
When the government of Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman came to power in 2009, the Israelis stopped paying even lip service to the idea of a final settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a viable Palestinian state. They also refused to stop the expansion of settlements, making it impossible for the negotiations to continue.
The Palestinian Authority now seems to have given up on the negotiations in practice, if not officially. It signed a reconciliation agreement with Hamas in May, over vociferous threats from the Israelis that that would mean the end of the peace process. No one took those threats seriously because it was quite obvious that there was no peace process. This month, the Palestinian Authority plans to seek recognition from the UN General Assembly for a Palestinian state, thus bypassing the Israelis and their American and European allies. This move, if successful, would amount to official recognition from the international community that the peace process has failed.
Blair’s remarks therefore are part of a desperate attempt to shore up the non-existent peace process and forestall the Palestinians’ move to gain international recognition of their right to an independent state. In the next week he will meet with Palestinian and Israeli leaders. However, it is very unlikely that these talks will result in anything. Blair has been ineffectual ever since he was appointed as the Quartet’s representative in the Middle East since 2007. His remit did not include the resumption of peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis but rather to oversee governance, security, and economic life in the Palestinian territories.
What that has meant in practice is that he provided an international seal of approval to the Palestinian Authority security forces’ violations of the human rights of opposition activists, most notably those in Hamas, and helped convince Israel to remove a few of its hundreds of checkpoints in the West Bank. This, he claimed improved the economic situation of the Palestinians, and was building “peace from the bottom up”. In reality, these measures were simply a PR exercise for Israel, allowing it to demonstrate “goodwill” to the Palestinians while insuring there was no genuine improvement in the Palestinian economy, which remained totally dependent on Israel. There are widespread accusations that he used his position for financial gain, offering Tesco help to establish itself in the Middle East in return for a fee of £1 million. While theoretically his job was to help Palestinians, he did not utter a word of condemnation when Israel attacked Gaza in 2008, and was rewarded shortly afterwards with a $1 million prize from Tel Aviv University, for his “exceptional intelligence and foresight, and demonstrated moral courage and leadership”.
Blair’s latest intervention in the peace process coincides with the publication of damning new information about his government’s links with the Gaddafi regime in Libya. This is unlikely to be coincidental. Blair has always wanted to be recognised as an international statesman and peacemaker but his record speaks otherwise, and when he was Prime Minister he did serious harm to Britain’s standing in the Middle East.
Not content with waging an illegal war which resulted in the deaths of 1.3 million innocent people in Iraq, Tony Blair further destroyed Britain’s reputation in the Middle East by maintaining cosy relationships with the region’s most brutal tyrants, such as Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad, and Hosni Mubarak.
After the Egyptian revolution against Mubarak’s rule began, Blair was one of the very few international politicians to speak out in his favour. This caused him great embarrassment at the time and showed just how out of touch he was. His latest parroting of the same old formula of a “negotiated settlement” leading to a “viable Palestinian state” which the world is sick and tired of hearing is further evidence that he is yesterday’s man and no longer has any role to play in a region where people have realised that the only way to deal with occupation and dictatorship is to take matters into their own hands. All he represents is a shameful past which Britain and the world would rather turn their backs on.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.