blair closing eyes 88.
(photo credit: AP)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair's positions on the Middle East in general and Israel in particular were not a dominant factor in the process that forced him a few days ago to announce his intention to step down within the next year, according to several members of a delegation from his Labor Party who are visiting Israel this week.
It may be that his disinclination to call early for an immediate cease-fire in the Israeli-Hizbullah conflict was a minor factor in ratcheting up criticism of his performance from within Labor, one member of the group said. But where foreign affairs were concerned, many in the 15-strong group said, the main area where Blair was being judged was over his handling of the Iraq war, and the main focus of criticism was the sense that he allied himself too closely to the Bush administration.
Were the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown to succeed Blair as prime minister and Labor leader, members of the group did not anticipate a dramatic change in positions on Israel. Brown, the son of a Methodist minister, has recalled visiting Israel with his father as a child, and has been here often since - notably last November when, immediately after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, he was forced to return to the UK to vote on a piece of anti-terror legislation. (Brown's hurried flight home was to no avail; the government lost the vote. Brown returned to Israel a few days later.)
The group - comprising members of Parliament and members of the European Parliament - was organized by the Labor Friends of Israel. Its visit this week, with an itinerary including a tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, a tour of the West Bank security barrier and talks with Israeli and Palestinian Authority politicians and representatives, happened to begin as Blair made his visit to Israel at the weekend.
Meanwhile in Brussels on Wednesday night, the formal launch is being held of a European Friends of Israel group, unifying European and member-state parliamentarians who seek closer ties with Israel.
Some 200 politicians from both the European Parliament and EU member states, together with European commissioners and other senior European officials and Israeli ministers and parliamentarians are to attend the event.