Blair steps down after 8 years as Quartet envoy

Former British PM will now, in an informal capacity, try to strengthen relations between Israel and Arab world as way to underpin peace process.

Tony Blair and Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Tony Blair and Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Quartet envoy Tony Blair submitted his resignation on Wednesday after eight years of trying to push forward economic development and institution building in the Palestinian Authority.
Blair sent a letter of resignation to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, saying he will step down at the end of June.
Representatives of the Quartet – the US, UN, EU, and Russia – met Wednesday in Brussels on the sidelines of the biannual Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), which deals with international financial assistance to the PA, and discussed the development. They released a statement expressing “deep appreciation” to Blair for his “unwavering commitment to the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
There has been widespread speculation since March that Blair would step down. No immediate replacement was named.
According to a source close to the former British prime minister, Blair remains “completely committed to assisting the international community to bring about progress [in the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process], but believes that the best way is without a formal role and by working with key regional players, the US and the EU.”
The source said Blair believes there needs to be a different, regional approach to the peace process, and will use his links in the region to push that approach and strengthen Israel’s relations with the Arab world. The source said Blair believes this is a way to underpin any possible Israeli- Palestinian progress.
The source said Blair will act in an “informal role” without any official title.
Following a visit to Gaza in February, Blair said a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was needed.
“The last conflict left Gaza devastated and its people worn down and impoverished,” he said. “The problem is not – as is often thought – locking negotiators in a room long enough to make an agreement. At present, you could lock them in such a room for eternity and peace would still not come.”
At the time, he said there were three preconditions to a “successful peace process.”
First, he said, there must be a “dramatic and broad improvement” in the daily lives of Palestinians.
Second, there must be “unified Palestinian politics” that “explicitly is in favor of peace and two states, meaning a sovereign State of Palestine and a secure, accepted State of Israel.”
Third, he said, there must be “an enhanced role for the region, in alliance with the international community, which must step up to share leadership of the issue.” He asserted then that in all the current “darkness” in the diplomatic process there is one potential ray of hope – the changing region.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warmly praised Blair, saying his “deep understanding” of the Mideast enabled him to develop trustworthy relations with leaders of the region.
Netanyahu said Blair furthered “important economic projects” between Israel and the PA, and “in his wisdom helped many times to bridge gaps between the sides in the region, including during times of crisis.” Israel, he said, greatly appreciates his efforts and determination.
Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman issued a statement saying he was sorry to hear of Blair’s resignation. Blair, he said, knows the realities of the region well, made great efforts to move things forward and worked genuinely and with great dedication to solve problems.
He called Blair both “a true friend of Israel” and a “personal friend,” and said he “worked a great deal to bring Israel and the moderate Arab states closer.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Blair “has been a valued partner and friend in our effort to bring peace to the Middle East,” and praised his “tireless” efforts in the post.
“We deeply appreciate his efforts,” Rathke added, acknowledging: “The Quartet’s goals haven’t been achieved, of course. The Quartet will continue its work.”
Blair took over the job in June 2007, a number of months after former World Bank president James Wolfensohn – the Quartet’s first envoy – stepped down after a year.
Michael Wilner in Washington contributed to this report.