Tony Blair due in Israel on Sat. night

British PM flies to discuss Lebanon situation, 'how to restart peace process.'

blair and wife 298 88 (photo credit: AP)
blair and wife 298 88
(photo credit: AP)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair may be unloved inside his own party, and the Palestinians may not want him to visit Ramallah, but diplomatic sources said Thursday that when he arrives in Jerusalem on Saturday night, he will be greeted as a "true friend" who stood by Israel during the recent war. In a move that hurt Blair in his Labor party but was widely appreciated in Jerusalem, the politically beleaguered prime minister backed US President George W. Bush in not calling for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon. Blair, who is facing an internal Labor Party insurgency, announced on Thursday that he would resign within a year. "He has proven that he is a true friend," said one senior diplomatic official in Jerusalem. "Not only during the war, but before that as well." The Palestinians have a different attitude. Hundreds of self-proclaimed Palestinian "notables, intellectuals and political figures" took out an ad in Al-Ayyam and declared him "persona non grata." "He is coming here to wash his hands that are dripping with Lebanese blood with Palestinian water," the group wrote in the ad. Blair is to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday night, and with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Vice Premier Shimon Peres on Sunday. He is also expected to travel to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday. He is to depart on Monday for a few-hour visit to Lebanon, his first there since taking office nine years ago. He is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese National Assembly. Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said his talks in Jerusalem would focus on implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and how to move the Palestinian track forward. One official, however, said that if Blair hoped to push for progress with the Palestinians, he was "detached from reality." Blair's spokesman said Blair had "no illusions that this trip would be about starting negotiations now." But, he said, it would be about "starting a process of reengagement with the process of negotiation. No matter how angry both sides are about recent events, no matter how much they mistrust each other or others like ourselves, we have to get people on all sides to recognize that they have to get back to the process of negotiation and start taking those first steps. This forthcoming trip will not be about big agreements. It will be about getting the process of people thinking how to restart the peace process." Blair was last here in December 2004 for a meeting with prime minister Ariel Sharon, and Olmert met him in June during his visit to London. During that trip, Olmert campaigned for British support for his realignment plan, a plan that he himself has since shelved.