I was in Europe earlier this week speaking with current and former officials, experts and diplomats about the situation in the Middle East, when the news broke of the appointment of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as special envoy of the Quartet for Arab-Israeli peace-making. It is hard to know if this is a joke, an insult, or a positive new beginning. My mixed feelings and those of many others in the Arab world are the result of years of watching both the Quartet and Blair speak lofty rhetoric, but fail to follow up with practical, evenhanded deeds. If there is an award for the combined negative credibility of an institution and an individual, the Quartet and Blair should be its first recipients. Neither of them has much to stand on in terms of a track record of accomplishments in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, and both are tainted by a legacy of high aims, nice rhetoric, and meager results. Blair’s negatives in the Middle East are well known, and are not counter-balanced by his many successes at home or in Europe. His main problem is not only that he has been hypocritical or partial to Israel and the United States rather than truly even-handed; it is also that his policies have contributed directly and abundantly to the Arab-Israeli conflict and associated tensions in the Middle East that he is now going to try and resolve. Appointing Tony Blair as special envoy for Arab-Israeli peace is like appointing the Emperor Nero to be the chief fireman of Rome. Blair has spoken for years about pushing for peace and two states in Palestine and Israel, yet he has repeatedly come down on the side of the Israelis in demanding that Israel’s security should be guaranteed before any progress can occur. Last summer he declined many opportunities to condemn Israel’s attacks against Lebanon, and instead went along with the US-driven policy of endorsing them. His speedy support of the Israeli-American boycott of Hamas after its election victory last year was impressive only for its unthinking haste. His enthusiastic war-making in Iraq on the basis of lies and mistaken assumptions has caused immense suffering and waste in the Middle East, and has badly expanded the cycle of terror and brutal counter-violence in the name of fighting terror. He has been a champion of misdiagnosis of the problem of terrorism, and has consistently offended Arabs and Muslims with his exaggeration and mistaken analysis of the relationship between Islam, terror and political trends in the region. He has crowned his legacy of diplomatic deficiency with an absolute refusal to acknowledge that the foreign policies of the US, the United Kingdom, Israel and others could be contributing factors to the violence, anger and terror that plague the Middle East. His subservience to Washington in Iraq and in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been an example of obsequious spinelessness. He repeatedly pledged himself to promoting Arab-Israeli peace and to working behind the scenes to influence the US positively in this direction, but consistently without success, and perhaps even without sincerity from the start. We should view Blair’s appointment with a great deal of skepticism and with little expectation of any real progress. However, Blair’s weaknesses and inconsistencies should not detract from the fact that the Quartet was a good idea when it was formed. However, it has failed by not being equally fair to both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It has lacked a mechanism for applying its principles on the ground, and has tended to succumb to American ideas. Europe in particular has been hurt by the exercise. It is increasingly perceived as having moved toward the Israeli-American position on most issues, and of having largely abandoned its former posture as an impartial supporter of international legitimacy and legality as enshrined in United Nations resolutions. The revival of the Quartet since last winter, thanks to Europe’s prodding, and the appointment of Blair suggest a possible opportunity for real change. This could also be an opportunity for all those who wish to learn from their mistakes to do so–Arabs, Israelis and Quartet members–and to replace their past deficiencies with a more decisive and even-handed approach to peace-making that has a chance of succeeding. Yet there are no clear signs that the Quartet members are seeking to change their approach to Arab-Israeli issues. I suspect we are in for some huge new disappointments, as show business replaces the hard work of genuine peace-making, and dazzle replaces real diplomacy. I hope I am proven wrong. I would wager a plate of fish and chips that I am not.
Rami G. Khouriis published twice-weekly by THE DAILY STAR.