Tuesday

2nd Jun 2020

Blair named Middle East envoy amid reservations

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair has been officially named as a Middle East envoy hours after being replaced by new UK leader Gordon Brown. But the move has not been met with universal approval.

Mr Blair is to become the official negotiator for the Middle East Quartet partners - the European Union, Russia, the UN and the US - it was confirmed on Wednesday (27 June), with his mission set to start in the next few weeks in new offices in Jerusalem.

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Speaking before British parliament on Wednesday for the last time as prime minister, Mr Blair said that a solution to Middle East problems was possible but it required "huge intensity and work."

"The absolute priority is to try to give effect to what is now the consensus across the international community - that the only way of bringing stability and peace to the Middle East is a two-state solution," he stated, according to BBC news.

In the Middle East, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said "Tony Blair is a friend of Israel, a friend of the Palestinians and above all a friend of peace. We are delighted with the idea of working with him."

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was also satisfied with the decision. "President Abbas welcomes the nomination of Mr Blair as envoy of the Quartet," said Saeb Erakat - chief Palestinian negotiator, according to Al Jazeera.

Is he right for the job?

Reservations persist about his suitability to act as an honest broker in the region after his unequivocal support for George Bush on Iraq, however. Mr Blair also declined to call for a halt to the Israeli bombing of Lebanon last summer.

The announcement was delayed because of Russia's reservations, with Mr Blair telephoning Russian president Vladimir Putin late on Tuesday (26 June) in an attempt to soothe concerns.

Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov later said that his government backed Mr Blair, writes Al Jazeera.

His successor, Gordon Brown, also has private reservations about the former premier's new role, reports the Independent.

Mr Brown is said to be concerned Mr Blair should not interfere with an economic strategy for Palestine, which he is keen to pursue in the coming months.

And news reports the Iraq issue also stands behind EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's doubts over the appointment.

Hamas rebuke

But the strongest criticism came from Hamas. The militant Islamist faction currently controls Gaza, while Fatah holds the West Bank.

"Our experience with Tony Blair as Britain's prime minister has not been encouraging," said Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said, according to Reuters. "He has always adopted the American and Israeli positions."

"Blair always acted under the umbrella of the US and stands behind wars and dramas, which today inflict suffering on Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Lebanon," another Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP.

Mr Blair will not draw a salary though his travel and office expenses will be paid for by the Quartet.

He replaces former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, who resigned in April last year in frustration at the difficulty of making progress on a problem that has defied diplomacy for nearly 60 years.

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