United Nations: Former British prime miniser Tony Blair was named envoy of the Middle East peace quartet — comprising the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — tasked with spearheading efforts to create a Palestinian state, hours after he stepped down.
“Following discussions among the principals, today the quartet dealing with the Middle East is announcing the appointment of Tony Blair as the quartet representative,” UN spokeswoman Michele Montas announced.
She said that as “quartet representative, Mr Blair will mobilize international assistance to the Palestinians, working closely with donors and existing coordinating bodies.”
Several world leaders led by US President George W Bush welcomed Blair’s appointment but the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas denounced it.
“Tony will help Palestinians develop the political and economic institutions they will need for a democratic, sovereign state able to provide for its people and live in peace and security with Israel,” Bush said.
Israel and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas also expressed their approval.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “believes that Mr Blair can have a favourable impact, in particular by helping the Palestinians develop solid governmental structures,” his spokesowman Miri Eisin said.
Abbas, on a visit to Amman, agreed.
“President Abbas welcomes the nomination of Mr Blair as envoy of the quartet...(and) has given the assurance that he will work with (him) to arrive at a peaceful solution on the basis of two states,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.
But rival Hamas, whose forces routed Abbas’ Fatah forces and seized control of the Gaza Strip 12 days ago, said the appointment “is not acceptable to Hamas nor to the Palestinians.”
“He will not do anything to support the Palestinian interests but will do everything to support the Israeli occupation,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP in Gaza.
Blair, 54, will also “help identify and secure appropriate international support in addressing the institutional governance needs of the Palestinian state, focusing as a matter of urgency on the rule of law,” a quartet statement said.
The quartet has since 2003 tried to implement a “roadmap” for Israeli-Palestinian peace. But the three-stage blueprint that should have led to the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel by 2005 has since languished.
The post of quartet representative had been vacant since former World Bank chairman James Wolfensohn left in frustration in May 2006.
Blair was tasked with developing plans to “promote Palestinian economic development, including private sector partnerships, building on previously agreed frameworks, especially concerning access and movement.”
Although he is well regarded in Israel, Blair has been reviled in the Arab world for Britain’s role in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and his support of Israel’s war in Lebanon last summer.
Questions have therefore been raised as to whether this might not hurt his credibility as Middle East envoy, particularly among Arabs.