Tony Blair’s attempt to
look like a statesman bring peace to the Middle East is continuing despite achieving very little so far. He has managed to get an agreement from Olmert and Abbas to meet for talks at some unspecified time but that is about all. But this trip was always going to be about Blair trying to prove that he has some sort of role to play in international diplomacy to justify his staying in office rather than achieving anything concrete in the region.
Despite the previous reluctance of the Israeli leadership to meet with Blair, he was met with a warm welcome by Israel, and with good reason. Blair has not once criticised Israel for the continuing building of illegal settlements, the disproportionate destruction of Lebanon and the genocide and starvation of Palestinians which he has actually helped with by doing his best to prevent a ceasefire in Lebanon and by imposing collective punishment on the Palestinians for daring to elect a government that does not meet with the approval of Olmert, Bush and himself. This pattern of no criticism has continued on his current visit.
Asked to condemn Israeli actions Mr Blair said “grandstanding” and apportioning blame would not help resolve the situation.
Can you imagine Blair saying something similar if there was a suicide bombing in Telaviv? He would be grandstanding and apportioning blame for all he was worth, just as he grandstanded and apportioned blame to Hezbollah for the war in Lebanon while carefully ignoring the constant violations of Lebanese airspace and border incusions by Israel. It is precisely this obvious bias which makes Blair’s claims of being a helpful influence for peace in the Middle East so ludicrous. And it’s not just to please his American master who is ambivalent at best to peace in the region. Blair still feels he has to honour his pledge to his discredited Middle East envoy and personal fund-raiser, Lord Levy despite the collapse of his authority at home. That support for Israel is not unappreciated in the Jewish state:
Blair is currently probably the most popular British prime minister among the Jews here since the era of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, with the exception perhaps of Winston Churchill. Friendly towards Israel throughout the past nine years, he surpassed himself during the Lebanon War, insisting on a comprehensive solution to the Hizbullah threat before pressing for a cease-fire and refusing to place blame on Israel for a “disproportionate” retaliation to the attacks.
Needless to say Blair’s welcome in Ramallah was somewhat more formal than his welcome in Jerusalem. All Blair could do was say that he understood Mr Abbas’ greivances and try to help. But without speaking to Hamas, the elected government, Blair will make no progress. What Blair is trying to do yet again is impose conditions on the Palestinians. This time he wants them to form a ‘unity government’ that recognises the theives of their land as a legitimate state. Blair would look far more even-handed if he put equal pressure on the other countries that refuse to recognise Israel to do so. I have not noticed similar pressure being put on:
Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Comoros, Djibouti, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Instead of starving that bastion of democracy, Saudi Arabia into recognising Israel, Britain is arming the regime to the teeth. So there is little wonder that Blair’s visit to Palestine has been met with protests.
Around two dozen demonstrators, who accuse him of pro-Israeli bias, gathered outside the government compound where he was meeting with Abbas, waving Palestinian flags and holding up a placard that read: “Be a darling Tony and don’t show your face here.” [My emphasis]
Even before Blair’s arrival there was no doubt as to how the Palestinians felt about his visit.
A newspaper advertisement signed by hundreds of Palestinian figures [though none from Hamas or Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement] said: “He is coming here in order to wash his hands, that are dripping with Lebanese blood, with Palestinian water.
“We the signatories… notables, intellectuals and political figures declare that Tony Blair is persona non grata in our country.”
Blair will soon return from what will be seen as a largely ineffective mission in the Middle East to the turmoil he has created within his own party. I expect his welcome home will be similar to the welcome he received in Ramallah or the welcome he is about to receive in Lebanon where the speaker of the Parliament has already left the country to avoid meeting him.