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 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.
A man who lied his country into war with Iraq is thought to have enough integrity and dignity for such a post?
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 mechanism.
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.
Well, that all sounds quite lofty and simple but Charley Reese offers a realistic perspective on what life is like for the Palestinians while politicians pontificate:
Alas, President Bush discovered that he didn't like democracy after all. In his mind, democracy is only good if the election produces the results he wants it to produce. He immediately cut off aid and contact to the Palestinians, boycotted them and began a campaign to get other countries to withhold aid. These actions only harmed innocent Palestinian people. Since Hamas officials, unlike Fatah, were not in the habit of squandering public money on personal luxuries, the only people deprived by Bush's actions were ordinary people.
Now the president is pretending that the Fatah gunmen, whom he has been arming, were just sitting peacefully in the shade recently, trying their hand at knitting or crocheting, when all of the sudden those bad Hamas guys came up and started shooting. Regardless of Bush's lies, the truth is that Hamas fought back in self-defense. Between Fatah's gunmen and Israeli assassins, the Hamas guys must have felt like targets in a shooting gallery.
The Gaza Strip is a hellhole. It's a small patch of land, 41 kilometers long and about 6 to 12 kilometers wide. Its 360 square kilometers are crammed with 1.4 million Palestinians, about 1 million of them refugees from Israel's earlier wars. Unemployment is over 50 percent, and the poverty level is 60 percent. Nearly 18 percent of all children there suffer from malnutrition.
Israel controls its water supply and its air and land routes, and subjects its people to frequent closures, not to mention military attacks. It's true that some members of Hamas have resorted to terrorist acts, but the ratio of Israelis killed by Palestinians is small in comparison with Palestinians killed by Israelis. In the year 2006, according to B'Tselem, a respected Israeli human-rights organization, 660 Palestinians, including 141 children, were killed by Israelis, while only 23 Israelis were killed.
Try to visualize, if you can, 141 children. That's about the population of four average classrooms. Now visualize a heap of dead children. Those shot in the head are probably not recognizable, but you can see the bullet holes in the young, tender bodies of the others. If you can visualize this, then maybe you will get an inkling of the suffering inflicted on Palestinians by the Israelis.
Blair will certainly not be rattling the Israeli government's cage, so how can anyone expect that he will advance anything - let alone peace? And the more western governments divide and punish the Palestinian people by backing Abbas, the worse the situation will become.
There are no easy solutions and Palestine is not Northern Ireland. Blair lacks international credibility to be considered an impartial diplomat in this situation. Once again, he'll get his marching orders from Washington and Israel - from people who deliberately put the road map on hold and who chose to fund Abbas in an attempted military solution (ie. coup) thinking somehow that more violence is the answer. As with Iraq however, they're just creating more resistance in the Palestinian territories. Blowback - the thing they never plan for.
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Shalit's father: If Hamas wants talks, Israel must make deal
With friends like these...:
It is difficult to think of an American president who has caused more damage to Israeli interests than the president who is considered one of the friendliest to Israel of all time. No leader has done more than Bush - by commission as well as omission - to destroy the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.