News Analysis: Blair

CAIRO – Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is taking up his new job as the Quartet’s Middle East peace envoy without a real mandate or authorities, which virtually renders his mission "symbolic" and keeps him in the same mould as Washington’s "frontman," Newsweek commented in its new edition.

"In truth, Blair’s new assignment is a lousy job," the leading weekly said in its 18-24 July edition.

It said Blair was inducted with no real authority to forward real peace proposals to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. "And neither does he have much authority. He’s not really a negotiator," it said.

"He’s a moral man, by his own lights, and a religious one. But it really is hard to imagine any face worse, at a semiotic level, to put on this largely symbolic mission."

Blair met the Quartet — comprising the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia – in Lisbon, Portugal, on Thursday, July 19, to map out his future role.

"The first steps for me are, familiar as I am with this situation nonetheless, to go (to the Middle East) to listen, to absorb and to reflect … and at a later stage put forward proposals," he said following the meeting.

Washington has already wanted to limit Blair’s role.

"His mandate was made clear by the Quartet when we met," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday. "I think that there is not any larger objective than having a viable Palestinian state."

James Wolfensohn, the former special envoy for the Middle East Quartet, has accused the US administration of thwarting his efforts on the job.

"There was never a desire on the part of the Americans to give up control of the negotiations, and I would doubt that in the eyes of… the State Department team, I was ever anything but a nuisance," the former World Bank president told the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz in an interview published Friday.

"The basic problem was that I didn’t have the authority. The Quartet had the authority and within the Quartet it was the Americans who had the authority," he said.


Newsweek said Blair would remain a "frontman" for the Bush administration, living under its shadow.

"Blair the Persuader was in fact the frontman who gave the ferociously feckless Bush international credibility at those critical moments when the White House made its worst decisions," said Newsweek.

It continued: "He’s more of an ombudsman for the Palestinians, helping the shards of their divided non-state to get money and advice from foreign governments and cut deals with the private sector so that some day they can be a peaceful and prosperous neighbor to Israel."

Blair has been considered US President George W. Bush’s poodle.

He was Bush’s most trusted ally, putting his political future on the line by backing the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 despite rows with European allies and fierce political attacks at home

Last year, Bush summoned Blair during their "off-mike" talks at the G8 summit to talk about Lebanon, which was under a ferocious Israeli assault.

While the world was looking for Washington to enforce a halt of the Israeli onslaught, Blair decided to go to the region just to win time before enforcing a ceasefire.

"I can go out and just talk," Blair said at the time.

"Perfect. How could Blair imagine that he is the right man for this job?" the Newsweek asked.

"You almost have to feel sorry for him, so desperate is he to salvage his legacy after a record like that."
 ( + News Agencies – July 21, 2007)

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