‘Everyone wants a piece of Tony’
- 30 Jul 07, 11:01 AM
JERUSALEM AND NABLUS: The headline is from the weekend edition of the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. At the end of Blair’s first week in the region as envoy for the Middle East Quartet, Israelis and Palestinians are now left contemplating the gap between hype and hope.
Blair said he felt a “sense of possibility”. But the grounds for optimism were left unexplained. Israel’s politicians were positive, adopting a strategy they openly describe as “hug him close”. Israel’s press is enjoying the publicity. “An international rock star is now dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” claims Haaretz. Palestinian reaction was more muted.
“This isn’t about Tony Blair, this is about us,” the new Palestinian Prime Minister, Salaam Fayad, told the BBC. And, at least according to Blair’s job description, he’s right.
The remit provided by the Middle East Quartet - made up of the EU, the United States, the UN and Russia - limits Blair’s role to Palestinian economic development, good governance and the raising of international aid. This isn’t about summits and peace negotiations, it’s about getting the Palestinians to a position where a viable state becomes plausible.
Khaled, a falafel seller in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, isn’t convinced about Blair’s commitment. “He’s a loser,” he told me. “He did nothing to help the Palestinians when he was Prime Minister, when he had power. Why do you think he can help now?”
Ashraf Misre from Nablus would like a piece of Tony’s time. He often struggles to reach his different businesses because of restrictions on movement imposed by the Israelis. They say checkpoints are necessary for security. But for Ashraf and his wife Nisreen, the unpredictability involved in travelling short distances is a basic impediment to building his business.
What Israelis and Palestinians seem unclear about is whether Blair will stick to his limited mandate. Will he get stuck into the problems faced by entrepreneurs like Ashraf or will he end up involved in mediation between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas?
Unlike in Northern Ireland, Blair may find his freedom of movement curtailed. There are many players on this stage. Briefings by the American government have been clear: they will take the lead on major diplomatic negotiations.