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Many Palestinians in Ramallah expressed skepticism regarding the mission of former British prime minister Tony Blair, who held talks Tuesday with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Even PA officials admitted that Blair's task as special envoy of the Quartet was not going to be smooth.
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The majority of the Palestinians don't view Blair as an honest broker, mainly because of his close association with US President George W. Bush and his role in the Iraq war.
Only a few Palestinians interviewed on the streets of this city on Monday said they were hopeful about Blair's mission.
"Tony Blair is not our friend," said Abdullah Ali, a 25-year-old university student. "We don't believe in this man and that's why we are not pinning high hopes on him. If he really wants to help the Palestinians, he must exert pressure on Israel to remove all the checkpoints and release our prisoners from Israeli jails."
His colleague, Samer Abu Sabaha, 22, said Blair was making a "big mistake" by refusing to talk to Hamas during his current mission. "We want to see Blair talk to our democratically-elected government," he said. "There's no way that you can resolve this problem if you ignore the democratic choice of the Palestinians. By refusing to talk to Hamas, Blair is actually turning his back to half of the Palestinians who voted for Hamas."
Muhammad Siam, a 48-year-old construction worker, said Blair was coming to the region "to serve the interests of Israel and his master, Bush."
The Palestinians, he added, would never forgive Britain for last century's Balfour Declaration, which promised the Jews a state in Palestine. "Blair is not going to help the Palestinians," he said. "He's here to help Israel. The British are responsible for our tragedy because they helped create the Jewish state."
Nimer Hammad, a political adviser to Abbas, said the key to the solution in the Middle East remained in the hands of the US, not Blair. "The political portfolio in the Middle East remains in the hands of the US," he said. "Although the Quartet consists of other parties such as the EU and Russia, the Americans remain the main brokers."
However, Hammad said that Blair's "special relations" with Bush and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might help achieve progress. "Bush wants to see real results in the Middle East before the end of his term," he noted. "That's why he might give Blair full backing in his current mission."
Hammad also pointed out that Blair would not focus on the political aspect of the conflict. "Blair is coming to help us build institutions and improve our economy," he said.
Ahead of the meeting, PA officials said Abbas would ask Blair for more money and weapons so Fatah could consolidate its grip on the West Bank. "The Palestinian security forces need to undergo major changes," said one official. "They need more equipment and training. This is the only way to prevent Hamas from taking control over the West Bank. In the past few weeks we have arrested more than 300 Hamas supporters and members in the West Bank, including some who were planning to establish a security force for Hamas."
Another official described Abbas's authority as a car with a worn-out engine. "The car needs an overhaul before it stops functioning," he said. "If Blair wants to help, he must convince the international community to give us more money and guns. Otherwise, Hamas will become stronger in the West Bank."
Apart from the security forces, the Palestinians need help in rebuilding the judicial system, which has been paralyzed for many years due to the state of anarchy and lawlessness in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "We are serious in establishing good governance," said an aide to PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. "We have already taken a number of measures to end the anarchy and corruption. But we can't do all this without the help of the international community."