Sunday, 1 July 2007


Sunday July 1,2007

By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

TONY Blair’s appointment as a Middle East peace envoy has been met with anger and derision across the region where he hopes to bring an end to decades of conflict.

Political commentators and ordinary ­citizens were united last night in condemning the former Prime Minister as little more than a puppet of American President George W Bush.

Officially, Palestinian moderates close to President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Mr Blair’s appointment. So did Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who hailed him as a “true friend of the State of Israel”.

But behind the scenes, few expect Mr Blair to solve the intractable problems of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – some predicted he would not last long in his new job.

In Gaza, radical groups shrugged off Mr Blair’s appointment as an irrelevance.

“Blair is led by the Zionist-American plan and project,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. “He makes no independent decisions and is practising terrorism against Arabs. Such a person cannot be a representative for peace.”

Blair is led by the Zionist-American plan and project.

Islamic Jihad leader Khaled Al-Batch said: “I don’t think Tony Blair will do anything good, he is only obeying the United States and its crimes.

“He appears to be an on-off button controlled from the White House. How can such a person be a peacemaker after being a warmonger? He is not welcome at all here.”

Abu Mujahed, spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, described Mr Blair as a “loser”.

“He lost control of the leadership of his country,” Mujahed said. “He was a loser in Iraq. So the international community is trying to hide his total failure by exporting him and sending him to the Palestinian territories. We don’t expect any success or help at all from this man.”

Political commentators were equally hostile towards Mr Blair. Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz warned that though he may have brought peace to Northern Ireland, he faces a far tougher task in the Middle East.

“Here, among our foes, the appetite for death has long since turned in upon itself,” Horovitz said, “and breaking the addiction may be beyond the powers of even the most energetic and persuasive of spurned British Prime Ministers.”

Mr Blair is the latest in a series of high-powered political emissaries to be sent to the Middle East since the start of the Palestinian intifada uprising in September 2000, by a quartet comprised of the US, United Nations, European Union and Russia.

The list includes American Senator George Mitchell, former CIA director George Tennet, former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn and US General Keith Dayton. All have failed – particularly Dayton, whose plan to buttress Fatah fighters in the Gaza Strip against a Hamas takeover collapsed two weeks ago.

Even moderate voices cast doubt on the wisdom of handing the job to Mr Blair.

An editorial in Al Bayan, the government paper of the United Arab Emirates, said: “Certainly the man is endowed with great experience and competence, but is he capable of assuming such a mission at this precise moment, he who goes all the way as a Bush man?”

Ordinary Palestinians dismissed Mr Blair as just another western interloper, out of touch with the reality of Middle East life.

“He came here so many times and we are still in the same situation, actually things are worse,” said shopkeeper Mohammed Abu Amin, in the West Bank town of Ramallah. “He does not understand the Palestinians and he does not seem able to get Israel to change its policies.”

Despite the onslaught of criticism, there was one voice prepared to speak up for Mr Blair. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice hailed his record “at the forefront of international efforts to promote peace and reconciliation around the world, from Northern Ireland to the Balkans and beyond”.

But Mr Blair’s highly restricted mandate is limited to building Palestinian institutions and critics claim it will allow little scope for his skill at peacemaking. Leaving him only to become a high-powered fund-raiser for the Palestinians who have received more international aid per head, in the past 15 years, than any other nation on earth.

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