Blair's Middle East mission

Al Jazeera asked three experts from the region whether Blair can make a difference.

    Blair, left, is expected to work with Mahmoud Abbas to build up Palestinian institutions [EPA]

    Tony Blair has been handed a new diplomatic post after stepping down as British prime minister.

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    Working out of offices in Jerusalem, Blair will become the special representative for the Quartet of Middle East negotiators - the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia. 

    His role is expected to involve him working with the Palestinians on security, economy and governance.

    Al Jazeera asked three analysts from the region what Blair will have to do to make a difference.

    Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's Middle East analyst, said that he expected the former British prime minister to work to strengthen the position of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and the new Palestinian government sworn in after the Hamas-led unity government was dismissed.

    But he warned that Blair needed to avoid the pitfall of using Abbas to weaken Hamas saying that if he did, he risked creating greater problems outside the Gaza Strip.

    He also said that Blair would be expected to emphasise the role of other Arab nations in helping to secure a lasting peace.

    Limited mandate

    Aluf Bann, diplomatic correspondent at the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, said that Blair's role in the region had already been welcomed by Israeli officials.

    "Blair is a great friend of Israel, who has visited Israel many times during his tenure," he said.

    But Bann was sceptical that Blair could bring about a lasting peace deal because of his limited mandate.

    "If his mandate is limited to Palestinian Authority 'statehood preparation' but excludes the tough outstanding issues, it would be minimal, similar to James Wolfensohn's role as the Quartet envoy in 2005-2006.

    "It's not going to push forward any peace deal, beyond putting a nicer, not-American face beside Rice's."

    Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, has made frequent trips to the Middle East but is yet to secure any progress in peace talks.

    American ally

    Blair is a close ally of George Bush, the US president, and has frequently urged Washington to take a more assertive role in the Middle East. But some critics have suggested that the Iraq war has damaged his standing in the region.

    "He will be judged ... by his actions and by his appeared independence from Bush"

    Bann said that Blair's declared commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians should not be tainted by Iraq.

    "He will be judged ... by his actions and by his appeared independence from Bush."

    Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said that he felt that Blair would be a good person for the position as he was viewed as "a more neutral personality" than any American officials.

    "He has very good relations with the Israelis and the Palestinians and would get the support of the Americans."

    However, with Hamas taking total control of the Gaza Strip, Abusada said he did not think there was much chance of a lasting peace deal being reached.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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