How Netanyahu double-crossed Tony Blair and Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi
The controversial British former prime minister sold his failed initiative to Egypt's strongman, whom he reportedly advises, as part of a renewed push for peace in the region -- but also in a possible attempt to help Sisi score some kind of achievement on the back of a series of failures at home and abroad.
Blair served previously as international Middle East peace envoy, but his tenure saw little success - not least because of his perceived bias in favour of Israel, and hostility to Arabs and Muslims.
A speech delivered by the Egyptian president on Tuesday on peace with Israel was probably co-drafted and co-ordinated between Blair, Netanyahu and Kerry, according to Israeli press reports.
The speech, in which he called on Israeli political parties to agree on the need to advance the framework for peace with the Palestinians, was also coordinated with opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog, said two sources in the Israeli political establishment quoted by Haaretz.
|The main idea of the plan was to bring in pro-peace elements into the Israeli coalition ahead of a renewed push for peace|
The next step in the Kerry and Blair-sponsored plan was then to launch a new push for peace, with a regional conference to be attended by Israel and Arab countries.
But it appears Blair and Sisi have completely misjudged either the anti-peace mood in Israel or Netanyahu's character - or both.
By Wednesday, it became clear their plans had failed as Herzog froze talks with Netanyahu, who instead turned to Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, a far-right racist and Herzog's antithesis, and offered him the defence ministry in return for political support.
In a press conference later on Wednesday, Herzog said Netanyahu reneged on the deal they had reached at the last minute. The agreement is understood to have included reviving the two-state solution and giving Herzog the right to veto the construction of further settlements.
Netanyahu's move was a slap in Sisi's face, at a time when the Egyptian generalissimo appeared overconfident the Israelis would oblige, based on his scheming with Blair. It may well have been a calculated move by the fiercely intransigent Netanyahu, who could have seen the pressure as insulting interference in Israeli politics.
An announcement regarding Yisrael Beytenu joining the government has yet to be made official, but sources on both sides have said Lieberman could join the coalition as soon as this evening.
|Netanyahu's move was a slap in Sisi's face, at a time when the Egyptian generalissimo appeared overconfident the Israelis would oblige|
Although Blair stepped down as Quartet representative to the Middle East, he continued to act independently to restart the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and Arabs, reported Haaretz.
Blair visited Israel and other countries in the region every two or three weeks, almost always meeting with Netanyahu as well as Herzog, updating them on his talks with Arab leaders, according to the newspaper.
Blair's consistent message during these meetings was that Sunni Arab nations were willing and prepared for a breakthrough in relations with Israel, but such depended on steps Israel took in the West Bank and Gaza to demonstrate advancement of the two-state solution.
Blair believes the only way to advance a diplomatic move between Israel and the Palestinians, with the involvement of Arab nations, would be to bring the Zionist Union into the coalition, according to reports.
Last week, while visiting Cairo, Blair is understood to have worked on recruiting senior Egyptian figures to the plan. One political source says Blair suggested that Sisi make the speech he gave on Tuesday, with a message to the Israeli people and their political parties about the need to move forwards in the peace process with the Palestinians.
|Blair is the one who suggested that Sisi make the speech he gave on Tuesday with a message to the Israeli people and their political parties|
According to the source, Blair's activity around the Egyptian presidential office was fully coordinated with Herzog.
Blair also coordinated with Kerry, informing him of the talks with Herzog, Netanyahu and Sisi.
Up until Tuesday afternoon, the report continued, all was going according to Blair's plan.
But in the following hours, talks between Netanyahu and Herzog started to fall apart and finally collapsed just after midnight, leading to his turning to Lieberman.
According to Haaretz, Netanyahu realised that Herzog did not have the backing of a majority of his Knesset faction for joining the coalition, and didn't want to take the risk of making such far-reaching diplomatic undertakings.
|The appointment of Lieberman in the Israeli government demonstrates that Israel favours extremism and reinforcement of occupation and settlements over peace
- Palestinian Authority
The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has since reacted to the news, suggesting it had also been part of the scheme.
The appointment of Lieberman in the Israeli government "demonstrates that Israel favours extremism and reinforcement of occupation and settlements over peace," the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a press statement issued on Thursday.
"The appointment of Lieberman to serve as a minister in Netanyahu's government is an answer to the regional, international and French efforts to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process," the statement read.
Busy with the fallout of the Egyptian plane crash, the Sisi administration is yet to comment on Netanyahu's move, but it is clear Israel has poured cold water on the ill-conceived gambit.
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