Tony Blair: Time to go?

As point-man for the international Quartet, the former UK PM should not be defending Israel at Palestine’s expense.

Tony Blair has been a political salesman since he first made his debut at the British Labour Party conference. And he is good, no doubt about that.

Not only because he speaks coherently he is Scottish after all. Nor is it because he’s often compared with George W Bush.

It’s because Tony could peddle ideas and sell economic and military agendas better than most.

The question is: Would you buy a used car from Tony?

The Palestinians and the Arabs in general have concluded enough is enough.

Nabil Sha’ath, the Palestinian Authority’s first ever foreign minister, told me last year: “Forget Tony Blair. I think Mr Blair is at the wrong time at the wrong place and he’s just making it easier for Mr Netanyahu to deceive us, really, in more ways than one.”

Despite their suspicion that Blair betrayed them on more than a few occasions – siding with Israel behind their backs – he remained set in his position shuttling between Jerusalem, London and Washington.

And last week, Blair was dispatched to sell US and Israeli arguments for rejecting the Palestinian request for membership to reluctant UN Security Council members. He went beyond the call of duty.

There is always something for Tony in what Tony does, and nowadays he’s trying to renew his tenure as the international Quartet’s point man on Palestine. The Quartet, composed of the US, EU, UN and Russia, is supposedly responsible for making peace between Israel and the Palestinians.  

If I remember correctly, Blair negotiated his salary with Condi Rice at the State Department in 2007 when he was first appointed to the post. And he has one particular asset there. 

For all practical purpose, Tony has been the public face of Dennis Ross, Israel’s man at the White House. Ross has been a behind-the-scenes architect of the Obama administration’s policy shift over the past year, leading to Washington’s veto of the UN Security Council draft resolution on the illegality of Israeli settlements, and Obama’s Zionist speech, at the UN last week.

History of salesmanship

Blair started his career with the Labour Party in the mid 1980s as a junior parliamentarian and became its spokesman for six years. Three years later, he was the party’s candidate for prime minister under the slogan: “Things can only get better.”

And things did get better – for him, but not necessarily for the country.

He won the elections in a landslide and changed the rebranded the party “New Labour”.

During his tenure, public relations superseded reform in government, promoting “Cool Britannia” against the backdrop of mounting nepotism and financial discrepancies.

Blair’s so called Third Way (with selected ideas from British sociologist Anthony Giddens) left the British economy in shambles and its society in a terrible malaise.

The liberalisation of the banking sector and financial services left London far more exposed than its European partners when the financial crisis hit.

Things got much worse during his second term when Blair turned to foreign affairs. He sold George W’s “global war on terror” after 9/11, earning him the title of “Bush’s poodle”.

The low point of British politics came against the backdrop of Blair’s enthusiastic support for Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

Despite the terrible fiasco of the occupation and the revelation that the war’s justifications were false, Tony continued to sell the expired and rotten policy without shame.

From selling war to peddling peace

Many demanded that he be put on trial for war crimes. But in the age of empire, he was appointed as the point man for the Middle East peace process.

He went on to defend Israel’s policy in the West Bank. He promoted its “humane occupation” each time Israel removed one of its several hundred roadblocks and checkpoints that choke life and living in Palestine.

Tony Blair was nowhere to be seen during the first nine days of Israeli’s 2008 war on Gaza. He was on holiday.

Even today’s British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was irritated: “People in the Middle East are entitled to ask themselves, ‘Where is Tony Blair?'”

When 500 people were getting killed in the impoverished Gaza strip, Blair – according to his aide – was working tirelessly (at the private opening of an Armani store in London) to mediate a ceasefire.

Arguably, Blair’s part time job as Quartet special envoy says as much about his capacity to rebound as it does about Washington’s disrespect for the Arabs about a humiliated and divided Middle East, or about the nature of the “peace process” itself.

It also says much about the so-called international Quartet, that the Bush administration appointed the body to prelaunch its sponsored negotiations in 2002, which were, of course, an utter failure.

Why would the Secretary General of the United Nations that represents the whole community of nations accept being a junior partner in a geopolitical configuration? It is beyond me. Or, for that matter, why should Europe or Russia have their own seats at the negotiating table? Who said these hypocritical, cynical entities could deliver peace in the Middle East?

Be that as it may, the Arabs can’t fire President Obama or Russian Prime Minister Putin. They cannot ask Ban Ki-moon to step aside. They could, however, end the Quartet’s mission.

They could at least tell the Quartet to fire its special envoy before he becomes persona non grata. He is already unwelcome in Palestine.

In retrospect, Palestinians reckon it’s unfair to call Tony a poodle. Poodles are harmless. 

Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst. He was previously a professor of International Relations at the American University of Paris. An author who writes extensively on global politics, he is widely regarded as a leading authority on the Middle East and international affairs.

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