The Ever Controversial Blair Divides Palestinians

GAZA CITY — The appointment of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as a special envoy Mideast envoy for the Quartet is seen as a further dividing force between Palestinians in Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and Fatah-controlled West Bank.

"Perhaps he’ll help people in the West Bank because they follow the Abbas government but there will never be any change for the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip because of the Hamas government," Moamar Lolo, a broker, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday, June 28.

"All of this serves Israeli interests and perhaps to separate Gaza from the West Bank," agreed women’s activist Ola al-Hilo, 24.

In his first comments since being named envoy for the Middle East Quartet, Blair said Thursday he plans to travel to the region next month.

"It is a huge challenge," he told the Northern Echo newspaper, which covers the Sedgefield constituency that Blair represented before standing down as prime minister and member of parliament Wednesday, June 27.

"I have to prepare the ground for a negotiated settlement, and the key to that is to prepare the Palestinians for statehood."

Blair’s appointment by the Quartet — comprising the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — was hailed by both Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"The president, who was consulted on the matter, has given the assurance that he will work with Blair to arrive at a peaceful solution on the basis of two states," his chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.

"According to our experience at the time he was the prime minister of Britain he was not honest and was not helpful in solving the conflict in the Middle East," said Ghazi Hamad, the spokesman of the sacked national unity government.

He said Blair had constantly adopted "the American and the Israeli position."

Hamas, whose forces seized control of the Gaza Strip this month after routing rival Fatah fighters loyal to Abbas, condemned the Blair’s appointment.

"He will not do anything to support the Palestinian interests but will do everything to support the Israeli occupation," spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP in Gaza.

"Blair isn’t a welcomed character because he has never supported the Palestinian aspirations to end the occupation and free prisoners from Israeli jails."


Palestinians as well as experts doubt Blair could do the job without involving Hamas, one of the two leading political and military powers in the Palestinian territories.

"Blair’s chance was in world politics and he didn’t do anything," said Munzer, a 32-year-old doctor.

"He will have no effect because he won’t deal with Hamas until the American government agrees to do so."

The US has led an international campaign to isolate Hamas ever since it assumed power following a sweeping victory in the parliamentary elections over Fatah last year.

Blair was largely seen as a major player in holding together the isolation campaign.

"When Blair was prime minister and one of the closest friends of George W. Bush he did nothing for the Palestinian cause," said Middle East political expert Oreib al-Rintawi.

"So what can he do now as the Quartet’s envoy?"

Rintawi, head of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman, said Blair’s appointment would not serve the peace process as he was not a "neutral party".

"He is one of the architects of the Iraq war and one of the Western leaders who played a role in promoting the destructive policies of the American neo-conservatives in the Bush administration."

The Quartet has for years failed to advance the roadmap for peace on the basis of two states, Palestine and Israel, living in peace and security.

But the blueprint has languished and failed to meet a target of creating a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel by 2005 and Blair’s predecessor, former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn, stepped down in protest in 2006.

"It doesn’t seem that he is able to influence Israeli-US policy," said George Giacaman, a Palestinian academic and political commentator based in the occupied West Bank.

Unless Blair talked at the very least to elected Hamas officials, Giacaman added, "it will undermine his ability to work with both sides."
( + News Agencies)

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