15 JANUARY 2009


Where is Tony Blair? Weren't we told months ago that he was something like the top honcho for the "so-called Quartet" on the Middle East? One could witness the pride and joy on the face of our distinguished Mr. Ban as he announced that wonderfully promised collaboration with the former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There was also a reference to a "first time." Someone must have discovered the magical impact of that simple word on our determined Secretary General. If Kofi Annan was prone to "high level," Ban Ki-moon relishes "first times."

Anyway, Tony Blair was supposed to deal precisely with Palestinian welfare. He had tried to take over the political side but Condi cut him short. "l'Etat ces moi," she let it be known. New York and London immediately complied. An impressive list of functions was drawn to describe an "unprecedented" in general vague terms. One clear task was pointed out of all those vague generalities. "For the first time," the Palestinian people will have an international podium to ensure their welfare, build their economy, strengthen their finances and generally hold their hand in order to make it in today's increasingly rough world.

But, Mr. Blair completely disappeared, except for an occasional communique informing that he was on the blower to our farsighted leader and that they had elaborately reviewed "the move forward." The move, as is happened, was tragically backward; indeed very much backward to the point of an all out war.

Admittedly, there was a fleeting rumour that the man might show his face somewhere between the U.N. Security Council and the battlegrounds of Gaza. But then it turned out that he may have been very busy with his other assignments, like giving advice to that Bank in New York while pontificating about cultural dialogue and religious tolerance.

Obviously, the British press noticed. Here is a sample: "Everyone knew that (Tony) Blair was the wrong man for the job (of Mid-East Negotiator) -- indeed perhaps any job -- so the question is how are international appointments made and whose signature is on the appointment paper? Our fear is it is just an old international boys network with zero tolerance to the real world."
-- Brian Lewis, Manila, Phillippines in The London Times

"Certainly in Arab eyes, Mr. Blair is associated with a series of disastrous policy decisions...Britain's reputation as a military power and experienced player in the region will take a long time to recover.

"Mr. Blair is no longer the right man for the job. He should share the wealth of his knowledge with the incoming Obama foreign affairs chiefs and bow out gracefully.

"The joke in the region is that the only real beneficiary of Mr. Blair's recent engagement with the Middle East is the American Colony hotel in Jerusalem where he has established his office.

"In spite of all setbacks, Mr. Blair until very recently kept up the Bush Administration mantra that final peace is possible by end of 2008, when we were told a Palestinian state would be in place. This was either a delusion or an outright falsehood. There was never a chance of this happening despite the ground declaratives at the peace conference in Annapolis more than a year ago. Similarly, the timetable set out under the "road map" was nonsense...Mr. Blair shares some responsibility for this failure. His reputation in the Arab world is permanently tarnished.

"There are serious questions about how much time and effort Mr. Blair is prepared to devote for this issue.

"The search for peace in the Middle East is not a part-time assignment. It requires a full-time commitment, preferably by someone who has the right connections in Washington and the capitals of the region but can also approach the work with fresh thinking and clean slate. Achieving peace in the Middle East has long been regarded as the Holy Grail of international diplomacy. Unfortunately for Mr. Blair, it is beyond his grasp."
-- Richard Beeston in the Times of London