Tony Blair can’t catch a break. Days after the former British prime minister defended his jet-set lifestyle and denied allegations that he used his role as a Middle East peace envoy to secure private business contracts, senior Palestinian officials declared that his “bias” toward Israel casts doubt on his impartiality and called for his removal.
Mohammed Ishtayeh, a senior official and confidant of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Voice of Palestine radio on Oct. 5 that Blair was no longer trusted as an envoy for the Middle East Quartet, for which he mediates on behalf of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. “He has developed a large bias in favour of the Israeli side and he has lost a lot of his credibility,” Ishtayeh said. “We hope the Quartet will reconsider the appointment of this person.”
On Sept. 29, London’s Daily Telegraph disclosed that senior Palestinian officials had privately stated their intention to declare Blair “persona non grata” in Palestinian government offices over his role in renewing peace talks between Israel and Palestine. And senior official Nabil Shaath told the Guardian that Blair, who was appointed to the Quartet post soon after he resigned as prime minister in 2007, effectively acted as a “defence attorney” for Israel during a debate within the Quartet in July. The group had proposed in June that peace talks should resume within a month and that both sides should complete a deal by the end of 2012, but its partners were unable to agree on the terms necessary to end the year-long deadlock.
A spokesman for Abbas said that Palestinians would continue to work with the former prime minister, but did not directly reference calls for Blair’s replacement in his statement. However, Shaath said that Blair’s “parroting” of Israel’s demands undermines his credibility: “We thought he would be a real support to the Palestinians. But he gradually reduced his role to that of asking the Israelis to take down a barrier here or a barrier there. He really escaped all the political requirements of his job as representative of the Quartet.”
Animosity toward Blair has mounted following allegations that he had brokered and profited from mobile phone and gas deals in the Palestinian territories, and that he had lobbied former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s government on behalf of the JPMorgan Chase bank, from which he earns $1 million annually as a paid adviser. Blair has called the allegations surrounding his own business dealings “untrue” and “absurd.” He defended his contact with Gadhafi as purely diplomatic, and said he spends two-thirds of his time on pro bono activities. “I left office [in 2007] with two people and a mobile phone. I’ve now got about 150 people working for me,” he said. “So if what I was interested in doing was making money I could make a lot more and have a very gentle and easy life.”