Blair's departure: More questions than answers

Blair's departure: More questions than answers
Comment: The former British prime minister's tenure as a "peace envoy" achieved little, other than bolstering Israel's military occupation and his own bank balance, says Said Arikat.
6 min read
29 May, 2015
The former 'peace envoy' is unlikely to be missed by Palestinians, says Said Arikat [AFP]

On Wednesday, Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, announced his resignation as the representative of the moribund Quartet on the Middle East, a post he has held for almost eight years.

It was on June 27, 2007, the day Blair left his office at 10 Downing Street, that the then-United States President George W Bush recommended Blair as the Quartet's representative - an unpaid position with a huge expense account - to show gratitude to his accomplice in putting together a mountain of false evidence to justify the illegal invasion and occupy Iraq.

Everyone now knows the story of Blair's deception about the imminent danger posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, despite fully knowing that Iraq possessed no such weapons.

In both positions, as British prime minister and the Middle East Quartet representative, Blair looked after number one: Tony Blair.

Since he assumed his position as Quartet Representative-Envoy, it is said that his global consultancy business, Tony Blair and Associates - which offers investment and strategic advice to unscrupulous governments, corporations and billionaires across some 25 countries - has earned Blair upwards of $110 million.

Not one to shy away from self-promotion, he shamelessly mixed diplomacy with business, basically spending most of his efforts at serving his ambition to be wealthy. Once you add the countries in which his "Faith Foundation" operates (mainly in impoverished African nations), the number of countries Blair jets around rises to 50.

His clients are thought to include PetroSaudi, an oil company with links to the ruling Saudi royal family, JP Morgan and Mubadala, an Abu Dhabi wealth fund.

The latest revelations indicate Blair may have been pitching for a $45m contract to advise the United Arab Emirates - reportedly partly to fund a contract to advise Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

It was only last month that it was revealed in The Guardian that Blair was now being paid to advise the Serbian prime minister, just 16 years after he was involved in the bombing of Belgrade.

     We should remember that when the Quartet was created, it was in the middle of the Second Palestinian Intifada.

Blair himself claims that there is "virtually nowhere in the world right now where we could not work or provide the necessary contacts - either politically or commercially", a claim that appears to be distinctly credible.

But of course our focus here is not Blair's shady business dealings or his unscrupulous conduct in the pursuit of wealth. Our focus is on The Middle East Quartet that was created - stillborn - by US President Bush in 2002 in partnership with the United Nations, Russia and the European Union.

The Palestinians were not even consulted, while Israel was tearing apart its obligations under the Oslo Accords - launched and sponsored by Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, almost a decade before.

We should remember that when the Quartet was created, it was in the middle of the Second Palestinian Intifada. Israel was reinforcing its military occupation - from which it had redeployed to allow the Palestinian Authority (PA) a margin of function under the infamous Oslo Accords - and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was placed under siege while hundreds of Palestinians were killed, injured and imprisoned.

The separation apartheid wall was being erected and "Bush was in Sharon's pocket", according to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

However you examine the circumstances of its creation, the Quartet was dubiously founded. This is said in fairness to Tony Blair - who definitely does not bear sole responsibility for Israel's brutality, the unprecedented rate of illegal settlement building, or the bloody massacre of Palestinians in Gaza last summer.

It is also true that Blair was a man beset by conflicts of interest.

After all, how could he commit the required time and energy to the role of "peace envoy", given all of his ever-increasing commitments as a jet-setting business man, working for one Middle East government while advising another - and at the same time being seen to be impartial?

For instance, how could he press the UAE to fulfill its pledges to the Palestinians, when he is contracted to advise Abu Dhabi on investments? How are the Palestinians expected to trust him to end their bloody conflict, when he advocates even more bloody conflicts in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen - calling for more intervention in these tragic conflicts?

     Blair's duplicitous nature and complacency with the Israeli occupation will come to the fore.

In reality, once his tenure as Quartet Representative is fully scrutinised by history, Blair's duplicitous nature and complacency with the Israeli occupation will come to the fore.

He must have known, when Bush offered the job back in 2007 that, while he was being rewarded for his complicity in the Iraq war crimes, he was not to say or do anything that could in any way embarrass Israel or place it in an internationally challenging position.

How else can we explain that, after almost eight years of Blair's high-profile job, there are still more than 500 checkpoints and roadblocks across the West Bank? The Gaza Strip, severely damaged by Israel's wars of 2009, 2012 and 2014, remains immersed in a humanitarian catastrophe, with more than 80 percent of its population reliant on foreign aid for survival - aid that is yet to arrive - while Israel continues to build settlements that are illegal under international law at unprecedented rate in the occupied West Bank.

Surely, an astute politician like Tony Blair, three times elected as British prime minister, must have known that there is no way to build the Palestinian economy unless and until the Israeli occupation ends at long last. Certainly his predecessor, James Wolfenson, knew that you have to end the occupation to build a viable economic base for the Palestinians - which please neither Israel nor the United States, ending his career.

Maybe Blair feels that he is at a point where the Quartet poses a distraction from his wealth prospects.

Or maybe he feels that he is unable to cover for the Israeli occupation any longer, and that he might be forced to issue a damning report on Israeli crimes against the Palestinians in the near future.

Following his February 2015 Gaza visit, Blair wrote that "20 years after Oslo we need a new approach to Gaza and a new approach to peace".

Palestinians will likely not care one way or another about Blair's retirement. They must end the shallow charade of the Quartet - or a return to negotiations, for that matter, and focus the totality of their energy on exposing Israel for the racist military occupier that it really is.

They must stop, once and for all, engaging in any ploy that gives cover to the Israeli occupier.

Said Arikat is a writer and analyst, and a former UN spokesperson.

Opinions stated in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.