Tony Blair’s future as Middle East peace envoy was in jeopardy after the Palestinian Authority said it was set to sever all contact with him because of his “bias” towards Israel.
By Adrian Blomfield
The senior echelons of the Palestine Liberation Organisation are expected to meet in the coming days to discuss a proposal to declare Mr Blair persona non grata, officials said. Predicting unanimous support for the motion from the entire Palestinian leadership, they said the intention was to isolate the former prime minister to such an extent that his position would become untenable.
Mr Blair has been viewed with an element of distrust by some Palestinians ever since his appointment as the envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East – the mediating body comprising the United States, the EU, the UN and Russia – on the day he left Downing Street in June 2007.
But antagonism has mounted over allegations that he lobbied European powers to vote against a Palestinian bid for statehood submitted to the United Nations in New York last week. “We have been extremely unhappy and dissatisfied with Mr Blair’s performance since he became envoy, but particularly in the past few weeks,” a senior Palestinian official said. No formal request for Mr Blair’s dismissal has been made to the Quartet, and it is likely the Palestinians will come under intense US and European pressure to change course and desist from making a public pronouncement on his ostracism.
But Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has shownhimself to be less amenable to American appeals than in the past. Considerably bolstering his once-flagging domestic popularity, he withstood a barrage of US anger in recent weeks to press ahead with his bid for statehood, despite threats in Washington to cut Palestinian aid.
Given the growing contempt in Palestinian circles towards Mr Blair, humiliating the former prime minister would only prove more popular. If Palestinians were to persist in refusing to meet Mr Blair, it is hard tosee how he could continue to do his job effectively.
“There is no one within the Palestinian leadership that supports or likes or trusts Tony Blair, particularly because of the very damaging role he played during our UN bid,” a second Palestinian official said. “He is considered persona non grata in Palestine. Although we can’t prevent him from coming here, we can hopefully minimise the role he can play because he is not a mediator, he is totally biased on one side.”
Palestinian anger towards Mr Blair exploded into the open last week whenNabil Shaath, a senior negotiator, denounced him for peddling a US-backed peace plan that failed to call for a halt to Israeli settlement building.
“He sounds like an Israeli diplomat sometimes,” Mr Shaath said.
Mr Blair has courted controversy in recent weeks after it emerged that he carried out a secret correspondence with Col Muammar Gaddafi, the ousted Libyan leader, using Quartet notepaper. Mr Blair has played the role of international peace mediator with some swagger, maintaining a personal staff of more than a dozen at a five-star hotel in East Jerusalem.
But he has reportedly been frustrated that his role has been confined primarily to the economic sphere. His major breakthrough has been persuading Israel to remove some of its West Bank checkpoints. He is understood to have hoped to assume the more political role played by George Mitchell, President Obama’s special envoy, who resigned in May. If Palestinian claims are true, his efforts to persuade European powers not to back the statehood bid may have been an attempt to burnish his credentials in Washington.
An aide to Mr Blair declined to comment on the Palestinian accusations.
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