Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Blair's Skeptics

Tony Blair hasn't been officially annointed Special Envoy to the Middle East but the unfinished formalities aren't preventing his skeptics from speaking out. Even the Times of London has some serious doubts:

"It is the haste with which Tony Blair has scripted his own sequel as the world’s envoy to the Middle East that gives the impression of self-absorption. The rush by his team to try to announce some kind of role by today, the last day of his premiership, seems designed to ease the sting of surrendering high office more than to solve the problems of the Middle East.

"It is not that the idea is ludicrous, if you take a long step around Blair’s role as one of the architects of the Iraq invasion, and his support of Israel’s military action in Lebanon. Many Arabs loathe him just for that, and in a region that sustains grudges so easily for hundreds of years, the grievances of the past decade are hardly going to be set aside. But Blair’s passion for tackling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is beyond dispute.

"But the problem with any role for Blair is that it is impossible to define while the political route ahead remains so unclear, and that won’t be sorted out by a few hours of talks about what he is supposed to do. The speed with which Blair’s role has been written has left ambassadors and senior Foreign Office officials speechless in the past five days, gesturing with their canap├ęs at garden parties to make up for an absence of words.

"The US-Israeli plan is now to pour resources into the West Bank, and to shore up Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, to make the contrast with Gaza as great as possible. But the hazards are huge. Abbas will not want to abandon the 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza (nor to seem like a US-Israeli pawn). Any revival of the West Bank economy would depend on Israel relaxing control of Palestinian movement, as argued in a World Bank report last month that was highly critical of Israeli policy. Yet Israel can say that this would expose it to insupportable security threats; Hamas has a significant presence on the West Bank and it is not going away."

It remains to be seen whether Blair will have any credibility left in the Middle East after Afghanistan and Iraq. He starts out with the reputation of being George Bush's poodle. If he fails to engage Hamas constructively, he'll likely be written off as Washington's stooge.

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