Tony Blair argues that the best chance for Middle East peace lies in building a new Palestinian state. But this sits awkwardly with his warnings over democracy in Egyptby Donald Macintyre / February 23, 2011 / Leave a comment
To listen to Donald Macintyre’s interview with Tony Blair, click here
Soon after Tony Blair arrived in Jerusalem on 23rd July 2007, as a new international envoy to the Middle East, he called together his makeshift team in the understated glamour of the American Colony hotel. His staff had been hastily seconded from diplomatic missions across the US, Russia, the EU and the UN. Just days before he left 10 Downing Street for the last time on 27th June, countries from this so-called “Quartet” had appointed him to a post that promised to fill at least some of his time ahead. His task, which had defeated scores of diplomats before, was to pursue economic progress in the Palestinian territories, in the hope that this would help open up a road to peace with Israel.
In the mission’s improvised offices, occupying the entire fourth floor of the hotel, Blair told his new team: “The bad news is that you’re going to get criticised for not criticising Israel enough. But the good news is that if we succeed, in three years we’ll have something to show for it.”
His first prediction was immediately proved right. Many of those working in non-governmental organisations dedicated to helping Palestinians—as well as Blair’s critics back in Europe—greeted the appointment with outrage. How could the prime minister who led Britain into a disastrous Middle East war, on what turned out to be an empty prospectus, act as a broker between Israelis and Palestinians? Some called the role no more than a sop to a world-famous political figure needing an international profile.
Nearly four years later, critics still maintain that his hope to have done some good has come to nothing. But it’s fair to argue that Blair has taken the role seriously. He has had some success in helping to improve the economies of the twin zones of the Palestinian territories, perhaps more in Gaza than on the West Bank. He has pushed his mandate to its limit, and has been frustrated above all by the paralysis of the peace process.
But the wider point—one where criticism of him has more bite—is that during the uproar in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, he has emerged as a highly cautious advocate of democracy. He acknowledges that elections in Egypt are necessary, but has warned against rushing to make that move, in comments which have seemed paternalistic to many, and…