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8139Middle East: 'Disaster for Palestinians'

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  • Zafar Khan
    Jul 1, 2007
      'Disaster for Palestinians'
      Conal Urquhart in Gaza City
      Tuesday June 26, 2007
      The Guardian


      It is unlikely that Tony Blair will get a warm welcome
      in Gaza City or anywhere in the Palestinian
      territories if he is confirmed as the Quartet's new
      Middle East peace envoy.

      In recent years, Mr Blair and by association Britain
      have become perceived as supporters of the US and
      Israel and antagonists of Arab and Palestinian

      Mohammed Taher, 32, a civil servant, described the
      appointment of Mr Blair as "a disaster" for
      Palestinians. "We have been saying for a long time
      that Blair is nothing more than George Bush's poodle.
      We remember his stance on Iraq and Britain's lead role
      in imposing an embargo on the Palestinian Authority
      after we did not vote the correct way," he said.

      "It's difficult to see how he can be neutral and
      independent after the positions he has taken. The
      envoy should be someone who has good relations with
      both sides not just one side."

      The Gaza Strip is now undergoing its second year of
      economic embargo. There is enough food but other items
      such as cigarettes are running out. According to Riad
      Musa, 29, an officer in a non-governmental
      organisation, in recent years Britain's foreign policy
      has become indistinguishable from that of the US.

      However, there was one voice that was more supportive.
      Itidad, 29, an Arabic language teacher, said that Mr
      Blair's experience and profile could force the
      different parties to reach an agreement.

      "I think it's positive that an envoy is someone of the
      stature of Tony Blair. He represents a strong country
      which has played a big historical role in the Middle
      East." she said.

      The Middle East doesn't need Blair
      Ian Williams
      June 21, 2007 10:30 AM


      In response to a news story, Tony Snow, Bush's
      spokesman, denied that Tony Blair was being considered
      for a position of special representative for the
      Middle East quartet. So, based on Snow's record for
      obscuring issues, it must be true.

      It would be the final epitaph for a quartet that has
      already proven to be a quadruple diplomatic

      To be fair, Blair does realize the primacy of the
      Israel-Palestinian issue for peace in the region. It
      is indeed the blockage in the regional U-bend that
      needs clearing before any other issues there can be
      seriously addressed.

      But knowing what the problem is, does not translate
      into knowing the solution, let alone being the
      solution. He has tried to tell George W. Bush this
      repeatedly - but with clearly limited success.

      Blair has consistently done whatever Bush wanted him
      to do. When he took British forces into Iraq, it was
      with clear knowledge of the ineptitude of the White
      House but he nursed the fond illusion that his support
      would give him a hand on the steering wheel - and then
      he found that runaway trains do not have steering
      capacity, and no working brakes either.

      His behaviour since he forced Robin Cook out of the
      foreign office follows a similar track, of coupling
      his wagon to the runaway Bush train. Once upon a time,
      even during the Reagan era, Margaret Thatcher had no
      compunction in having Britain vote with the rest of
      the world against the US on Middle East issues. Since
      Blair chopped Cook, on any occasion when the US has
      vetoed a resolution in the UN security council,
      British diplomats have abstained.

      In the EU, that has translated into tacit support for
      the American-Israeli positions. Diplomats from
      countries like Germany complain that even when Israeli
      depredations horrify them, they cannot be more
      critical of Israel than the British. That has shifted
      the formerly even-handed EU consensus into the
      American camp.

      The invertebracy of the EU has, as UN Envoy Alvaro de
      Soto demonstrated, helped the UN fall into the
      American-Israeli line. That accounts for three legs of
      the quartet and has left the Russians, who no longer
      really have a dog in the fight, as the half-hearted
      hold-outs, making the quartet a fig leaf for American

      But consider also Blair's personal position. One of
      the reasons he is leaving office is that he accepted
      the fund raising talents of Lord Levy, whose
      imaginative dangling of peerages for pounds attracted
      the attention of Scotland Yard. One should remember
      that his lordship was originally enticed to finance
      Blair's leadership campaign with the promise that it
      would be good for Israel for him to do so. And in
      return Blair made him Britain's special envoy for the
      Middle East.

      When it came to the Lebanon war last year, Blair stood
      alongside with the US and Israel in resisting a
      ceasefire for a month during which millions of cluster
      bombs rained down on Southern Lebanon.He not only
      backed the wrong side in moral terms, he backed the
      losing side. This does not augur well for his
      announced career path.

      It has been reported that Abbas has accepted Blair's
      nomination. That would be the beleaguered president of
      Palestine whose party lost the legislative elections
      and has accepted Israeli and American aid to oust the

      Blair has shown consistently that he has no influence
      with the White House on any important issue and will
      not even try to influence the Israelis. In the
      unlikely event that he has a blank cheque from the
      White House, he could do something useful. But it
      looks much more like the White House tossing him a
      diplomatic dime because there are vestigial memories
      of him doing them an occasional good service.

      From No 10 to the Middle East: Blair gets a new job

      Support from Bush leads to role as international envoy
      helping Palestinians

      Patrick Wintour and Ian Black
      Tuesday June 26, 2007
      The Guardian


      Tony Blair has landed a major diplomatic job as the
      international Middle East peace envoy, responsible for
      preparing the Palestinians for negotiations with
      Israel. His role, to be announced today, will be
      largely to work with the Palestinians over security,
      economy and governance.
      Working from an office in Jerusalem, and possibly
      another in the West Bank, Mr Blair will become the
      special representative for the Middle East quartet of
      UN, EU, US and Russia. The announcement comes on the
      eve of his departure from Downing Street tomorrow and
      is privately welcomed by Gordon Brown.

      The arrangement, which has been under preparation for
      weeks, is due to be agreed at a meeting of the quartet

      Friends of Mr Blair suggest he would make it a central
      purpose of his mission to work to restore Palestinian
      unity after the armed takeover of the Gaza Strip by
      the Islamist movement Hamas.

      At times he has had to bend with an American
      willingness to bolster Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah
      leader, while ignoring the plight of 1.4m Palestinians
      in Gaza.

      The idea of Mr Blair doing this job is understood to
      have originated with the prime minister himself in
      conversation with George Bush, who then suggested it
      to the UN. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, is
      said to be a keen supporter and Washington was
      reported last night to have mounted "an enormous push"
      to ensure Mr Blair got the post.

      Diplomats said there was some disquiet over the way US
      talks with Mr Blair were well advanced before any
      details were shared with the other quartet partners.

      Mr Blair has contantly pressed Mr Bush to take a more
      active role in securing a two-state solution for
      Israel and Palestine. Though his standing in the
      so-called Arab street may be low because of his role
      in the invasion of Iraq, he is held in high standing
      among Arab political elites, and he has frequently
      spoken of his passion to play a part in helping to
      secure peace in the Middle East.

      It was being stressed last night that Mr Blair's role
      - in the short term at least - would not be to act as
      a mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis,
      or to become a negotiator for the road map to peace.
      He might, however, be responsible for trying to
      persuade the Palestinians to accept the conditions for
      ending the international boycott of Hamas. The now
      defunct Hamas government has not received any
      international aid since its election in March 2006,
      although aid has been sent directly to the poorest
      Palestinians through a temporary international

      The quartet says aid can only be conditional on the
      Palestinians accepting the right of Israel to exist
      and giving a commitment to exclusively peaceful means
      and to abide by all previous agreements.

      Critics have claimed the preconditions have
      impoverished the Palestinians, boosted unemployment
      and led to the radicalisation of Hamas, culminating in
      Hamas controlling Gaza, and Fatah the West Bank.

      Diplomats familiar with the proposed mandate for Mr
      Blair said it did not differ in substance from that of
      his predecessor, Jim Wolfensohn, who left the job in
      April 2006. Mr Wolfensohn worked on issues such as
      galvanising international economic assistance to the
      Palestinians, economic development, governance,
      justice and human rights. Mr Blair's appointment was
      discussed by Mr Ban and Condoleezza Rice, the US
      secretary of state, at a conference in Paris yesterday
      before the quartet envoys met to conclude the deal in
      Jerusalem this morning.

      The four envoys are David Welch for the US, Michael
      Williams for the UN, Marc Otte for the EU and Sergei
      Yakovlev for Russia. It was Mr Welch, assistant
      secretary of state for the Middle East, who discussed
      the idea with the prime minister in London last week.

      Russia had initially been opposed to the plan but
      Sergei Lavrov, the country's foreign minister,
      referred the proposal back to Vladimir Putin, the
      president, diplomats said. Although Mr Putin and Mr
      Blair held a relatively heated bilateral meeting at
      the G8 last month, Mr Putin is not going to deploy his

      Mr Blair's reputation as a negotiator in Northern
      Ireland suggests that he has the patience and
      determination to bring differing sides together. He
      has repeatedly said the Middle East peace talks need
      to be micro-managed in the way that he handled the
      Northern Ireland peace process.

      Diplomats say the prime minister is in a better
      position than Mr Wolfensohn, a former World Bank
      president who was backed by Kofi Annan at the UN but
      eventually opposed by the US. "That may not be the
      case with Blair because he has such a hold in
      Washington," said one.

      An Arab official was more sceptical. "I don't know
      what Blair is going to be able to achieve," he said.
      "And anyway, what does Palestinian governance mean at
      this point in time when there is a geographical and
      political separation between the West Bank and Gaza?"

      Mr Blair's talks in Rome with the Pope were largely
      centred on his strategy to build a bridge between
      faiths. One of his great aims is to secure a
      reconciliation between Islam and Christianity.

      His appointment would come at a low ebb for the peace
      process, although there were slightly more optimistic
      noises from a summit in Egypt yesterday. The Israeli
      prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said last night that he
      would release 250 Palestinian prisoners in an effort
      to restart the long-stalled peace process, after
      meeting Mr Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan and the
      Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.

      CIA recruits Sudanese to infiltrate Arab jihadi groups
      Ewen MacAskill
      Tuesday June 12, 2007
      The Guardian


      The CIA, faced with the impossibility of infiltrating
      white Americans into radical groups in the Middle
      East, is recruiting Arab-speaking Sudanese citizens,
      in spite of sanctions against the country over the
      killings in Darfur, it emerged yesterday.
      Sudanese recruits have been providing information
      about individuals passing through Sudan to Somalia and
      elsewhere in the the Horn of Africa and Iraq. The
      Sudanese government is reported to have detained
      suspects in Khartoum at the request of the US.

      The US state department issued a report describing
      Sudan as a "strong partner in the war on terror". A
      state department official said the Sudanese had done
      things that had saved lives but acknowledged there was
      a contradiction: "The bottom line is that they are
      bombing their people ... Dealing with Sudan, it seems
      like they are always playing both ends against the
      A former high-ranking official, quoted in the Los
      Angeles Times, acknowledged the importance of the
      intelligence: "If you've got jihadists travelling via
      Sudan to get into Iraq, there's a pattern there in and
      of itself that would not raise suspicion. It creates
      an opportunity to send Sudanese into that pipeline." A
      US official still in post told the paper:
      "Intelligence cooperation takes place for a whole lot
      of reasons. It's not always between people who love
      each other deeply."

      US intelligence agencies do deals with all sorts of
      governments in the Middle East and central Asia, not
      only for intelligence-gathering but for secret
      detention centres and as fuelling stops in rendition
      cases. Iran provided information to the US to help its
      overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

      Another ex-CIA official said: "There's not much that
      blond-haired, blue-eyed case officers from the United
      States can do in the entire Middle East, and there's
      nothing they can do in Iraq. Sudanese can go places we
      don't go. They're Arabs. They can wander around."

      But relations have been soured by Darfur, a
      high-profile issue in the US, with campaigners calling
      for sanctions against Khartoum.

      Although Mr Bush has taken a lead on sanctions,
      critics claim he has not gone as far as he could have
      and blame this on intelligence cooperation.

      Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the national security
      council, said he did not believe sanctions would ruin
      intelligence cooperation. "We certainly expect the
      Sudanese to continue efforts against terrorism,
      because it's in their own interests, not just ours,"
      he said.

      In Sudan yesterday, the government rebuffed appeals by
      the new French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, to
      allow a UN-African Union force into Darfur.