The "Quartet on the Middle East" -- the UN, USA, Russia and EU for purposes of negotiations on the Israeli/Palestinian Authority/Arab negotiations, have, as widely predicted appointed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to be the group's Special Envoy. (Stories here, here and here). The ex-Prime Minister replaces a former World Bank President, James Wolfensohn, who resigned last year after an attack of good sense, no doubt deciding he'd rather have a life than try to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian issue.
The announcement by the Quartet, delivered on their behalf by US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, says that Mr. Blair will focus, inter alia, on ". . .the institutional governance needs of the Palestinian state, focusing as a matter of urgency on the rule of law. . .'' Good luck to Tony Blair then: the next day that the rule of law applies in territories controled by Palestinians will be the first. "Institutional governance" in that part of the world, if people are lucky, means that the local troops usually obey the general or the mullah and the stealing is performed with the proper paperwork; if unlucky, the general is just the local warlord and the "troops" are whatever gang owns the street this week.
Predictably, Hamas is not happy about the Blair appointment. Fawazi Barhum, a Hamas spokesman, speaking from Gaza (now under new management), says that "Blair, who supported the American occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, may not be a man of peace.'' Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle. The appointment, Mr. Barhum goes on to say "is not acceptable to the Palestinians." Now there's a shocker.
Closer to home for Mr. Blair, The Guardian, no friend of Mr. Blair, says that the new British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is angry about Blair's new job, because he was presented with a fait accompli, and can't make his own imprint on Middle East policy. Since the Labour Party is happily allowing Britain to be swallowed by Paris and Berlin (oops, the EU), which has its own ideas on the Middle East, it's hard to see what Mr. Brown has to complain about, other than Tony still getting his name in the papers.
I doubt this ends well for Tony Blair. On the one hand, now that the Quartet has picked such a high-powered envoy to run negotiations, there will be pressure from the US to see that there is at least the appearance of progress. The US (that is, Bush) likes Blair, and the US is, (since China doesn't care and the Euros are free-riders), the only party willing and able to put up the money for a peace deal. But on the other hand, US backing is likely to be a problem for Mr. Blair, since the EU, much of the United Nations, and the chattering class set in the US and EU hates both Blair and Blair's pal Bush, and longs to see the US cut down to size.
Bottom line, this production looks like a bomb. This situation doesn't need a negotiator, it needs a peacemaker. In 2000, Bill Clinton, at Camp David, offered the Palestinians the best terms the military and political facts entitled them to reasonably expect (see maps here). No dice: Yassir Arafat walked away and left peace on the table. No doubt Arafat preferred the cachet of being an anti-imperialist revolutionary leader as opposed to being a real statesman who made peace. Better for Arafat to be the gang leader among his thugs than to shoulder the mundane responsibililties of real political and national leadership: building a nation, establishing institutions and living with worry about consequences of duty such as murder by rejectionists or ingrates.
The Palestinians will have no state, no peace, no life beyond endless war and poverty until they get beyond revolutionary leaders, beyond mad mullahs who still rant about Palestine from the Jordan to the sea. When the Palestinians find somebody like this man, who put down the gun and became a peacemaker, knowing that in doing so, he signed his own death warrant, they might make themselves a real nation and their children a future. Until that time, Blair and the other "negotiators" might as well give it up and go play golf.