Middle East: 'Disaster for Palestinians'
- 'Disaster for Palestinians'
Conal Urquhart in Gaza City
Tuesday June 26, 2007
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
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
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
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
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
Patrick Wintour and Ian Black
Tuesday June 26, 2007
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
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
Tuesday June 12, 2007
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,"
In Sudan yesterday, the government rebuffed appeals by
the new French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, to
allow a UN-African Union force into Darfur.