Blair named Mideast troubleshooter

Tony Blair was Wednesday named special envoy of the Middle East peace Quartet shortly after stepping down as British prime minister and tasked with spearheading efforts to create a Palestinian state.“Following discussions among the principals, today the Quartet dealing with the Middle East is announcing the appointment of Tony Blair as the quartet representative,” UN spokeswoman Michele Montas announced.

The Quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — has been trying since 2003 to implement a “roadmap” for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

But the three-stage blueprint that should have led to the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel by 2005 has since languished.

Blair’s new role on the world stage was announced simultaneously here and in Washington shortly after he stepped down as prime minister after a decade in power and was succeeded by his former finance minister Gordon Brown.

The post of Quartet representative had been vacant since former World Bank Chairman James Wolfensohn left in frustration in May 2006.

President George W. Bush immediately welcomed the appointment of his close ally to the post, saying through a spokesman that he was pleased that Blair “will continue his work to help the Palestinian people.” Israel and the Palestinians also hailed the move.

 Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also hailed Blair’s appointment, Israeli Government Spokeswoman Miri Eisin said.

“The prime minister regards Tony Blair as someone who is able to play a very important role (in the Middle East),” Eisin told AFP.

“He is delighted that Mr. Blair continues to be involved in the affairs of the region. He believes that Mr. Blair can have a favorable impact, in particular by helping the Palestinians develop solid governmental structures,” she said.

 And Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, on a visit to Amman, also lauded Blair’s nomination.

“President Abbas welcomes the nomination of Mr. Blair as envoy of the quartet…[and] has given the assurance that he will work with (him) to arrive at a peaceful solution on the basis of two states,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.

Quartet representatives had discussed naming Blair as their troubleshooter at talks in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

Montas said that as “Quartet representative, Mr. Blair will mobilise international assistance to the Palestinians, working closely with donors and existing coordinating bodies.” The 54-year-old former British premier will also “help identify and secure appropriate international support in addressing the institutional governance needs of the Palestinian state, focusing as a matter of urgency on the rule of law,” a Quartet statement said.

Blair was also tasked with developing plans to “promote Palestinian economic development, including private sector partnerships, building on previously agreed frameworks, especially concerning access and movement.” He was to be supported in his new job by a small team of experts based in Jerusalem and seconded by partner countries and institutions.

Speaking before parliament for the last time as prime minister, Blair said “the absolute priority is to try to give effect to what is now the consensus across the international community that the only way of bringing stability and peace in the Middle East is a two- state solution.” He said this means “a state of Israel which is secure and confident in its security, and a Palestinian state that is not merely viable in terms of its territory but in terms of its institutions and governance.” “I believe it is possible to do that but it will require a huge intensity of focus and work,” Blair added.

The Quartet statement said Blair “will bring continuity and intensity of focus to the work of the Quartet in support of the Palestinians, within the broader framework of efforts to promote an end to the conflict in conformity with the roadmap.” “He will spend significant time in the region working with the parties and others to help create viable and lasting government institutions representing all Palestinians, a robust economy, and a climate of law and order for the Palestinian people,” it added.

Blair’s appointment was announced after Russia signalled it would not oppose the move.

“If the whole of the Quartet is in favor, we are going to welcome Tony Blair’s contribution to efforts to normalise the situation in the Palestinian territories,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reportedly said on a flight from Tel Aviv to Minsk earlier Wednesday.

Lavrov was earlier in Ramallah for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Blair, who lost political capital after sending British troops in support of the US-led invasion of Iraq, spent his last months in office stressing that a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was a priority for him.

Although he is well-regarded in Israel, Blair has been reviled in the Arab world for Britain’s role in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and his support of Israel’s war in Lebanon last summer.

Questions have been raised as to whether this might not hurt his credibility as Middle East envoy, particularly among Arabs.

The former British premier on Wednesday also resigned as a member of parliament.

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