Amman hopes Blair will push peace efforts

1331.jpgJORDAN ON THURSDAY expressed hope that new Middle East envoy Tony Blair help resume peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.

“Jordan hopes that Blair will give push to the efforts aimed at resuming political negotiations leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state,” Government Spokesperson Nasser Judeh told the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

“Such negotiations should be carried out in line with a specific and clear time frame and focus on a two-state solution,” Judeh said.

In other parts of the Middle East, Arabs poured scorn on Blair, dismissing him as biased towards Israel, but moderate leaders said they believed he could indeed help ease the hardship of Palestinians, Agence France-Presse reported.

Just hours after standing down as British prime minister, Blair was named international envoy for the Middle East Quartet which sponsors the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in the doldrums for years.

Arab commentators and analysts quickly dismissed Blair as a lackey of US President George W. Bush, incapable of easing Palestinian hardship or bringing peace to the troubled region.

“When Blair was prime minister and one of the closest friends of George W. Bush he did nothing for the Palestinian cause. So what can he do now as the Quartet’s envoy?” said Middle East political expert Oreib Rintawi.

Rintawi, head of the Quds Centre for Political Studies in Amman, said Blair’s appointment would not serve the peace process as he was not “neutral”.

“He is one of the architects of the Iraq war and one of the Western leaders who played a role in promoting the destructive policies of the American neoconservatives in the Bush administration,” he said.

In his new role, Blair is expected to spearhead efforts to create a Palestinian state, and mobilise international assistance to the Palestinians.

But his mission will be complicated by the division of Palestinian society following the bloody takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, which remains boycotted by Israel and the West as a terrorist group.

“Palestinian statehood is still pie in the sky. To quote President Bush, it is still a vision,” said George Giacaman, a Palestinian academic and political commentator based in the occupied West Bank.

“It doesn’t seem that he is able to influence Israeli-US policy,” he said.

Unless Blair talked at the very least to elected Hamas officials, Giacaman added, “it will undermine his ability to work with both sides.” The Quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — has for years failed to advance the so-called roadmap for peace on the basis of two states, Palestine and Israel, living in peace and security.

In Gaza City, where many prefer to remain shuttered up indoors, afraid to venture out since Hamas seized control two weeks ago, the prospect of a Blair era did little to warm hearts.

Deeply concerned about the de facto separation of Palestinians into two separate entities, one run by Hamas Islamists in Gaza and a Western-backed administration in the West Bank, Gazans fear they could be left out in the cold.

“Blair’s chance was in world politics [as prime minister] and he didn’t do anything. He will have no effect because he won’t deal with Hamas until the American government agrees to do so,” said 32-year-old doctor Munzer.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum on Wednesday slammed the Blair appointment as “not acceptable to Hamas nor to the Palestinians” and claimed that he would “do everything to support the Israeli occupation”. But other Arab leaders adopted a more careful approach, expressing hope that a man of Blair’s stature could bring fresh impetus to resuming peace talks leading to Palestinian statehood.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed his nomination and “has given the assurance that he will work with [him] to arrive at a peaceful solution on the basis of two states”, chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.

In Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit expressed hope that Blair would be supported by all international and regional role players “so that he can face the current challenges”. Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa said he was “convinced” that Blair would use his experience and reputation to make sure his mission succeeds.

United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Ben Zayed Nahayan said he hoped Blair would give a “significant boost” to the peace process.

But newspapers in the largely pro-US Arab states of the Gulf charged that Blair lacked credibility because of his total support of Bush’s policies.

“Certainly, the man is endowed with great experience and competence but is he capable of assuming such a mission and at this precise moment, he who goes all the way as a Bush man?” asked UAE government paper Bayan.

Musa Keilani, a veteran Jordanian political analyst, said the appointment was a political setback for the Arabs.

“Mr Blair has shown anti-Arab positions opposed to Palestinian aspirations,” he said.

“I don’t expect him to be successful in this position and his appointment is a negative measure for the peace process.”

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