Analysis: Blair the believer

Right now, it doesn't seem as if those who are sending Blair have any real interest in his success.

blair smiles 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
blair smiles 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
There are two ways of viewing Tony Blair's rather limited mandate as Quartet envoy. You can accept what US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said about how there's enough work to go around and therefore Blair will be able to count himself lucky and probably pick up a Nobel Prize in the process if he succeeds in his narrow brief, developing the Palestinian economy and improving PA governance. What Rice didn't say, of course is that, no matter how close an ally Blair has been to the Bush administration, the real business of getting the two sides to talk to each other is still an American monopoly. The opposite view was presented by the previous Quartet envoy, James Wolfensohn, in an interview in Haaretz over the weekend. Wolfensohn explained that it's impossible to improve the Palestinians' financial situation and to promote internal political stability outside of the wider context of the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Right now, it doesn't seem as if those who are sending Blair have any real interest in his success. It's not only the smaller-than-hoped-for job description, or the lack of enthusiasm shown by some of the Quartet's members. He has no fixed office yet and it's still unclear what size staff he will have to carry out his job. And so far, he hasn't been promised a budget that he can use at his discretion to kick-start various programs. But according to everyone who has met him, Blair has inordinate faith in his personal powers of persuasion, and as incredible as it sounds, really believes that he can pull off something of the scale of the peace agreement his government brought about in Northern Ireland. No political neophyte, he is aware of the forces ranged against him, not only here on the ground, but back in the headquarters of the Quartet's members. Israeli diplomatic sources might have said that he still has a lot to learn on the issues, but you can be sure that a policy wonk such as Blair has already put in the hours of study. He could have bridled at the lack of resources and backing, the meager responsibilities accorded to him, and the unofficial speed limits imposed on him by his American friends, but he still thinks he can do it. And he is prepared to give a week out of every month of his valuable retirement time to shuttle between Jerusalem and Ramallah instead of jet-setting around the world and giving lectures for six-figure sums. He cannot have any illusions that this will be a short interlude between his departure from Downing Street and his next career, or that the support of the US and the friendship of Israel is guaranteed if he embarks on a radical path and advocates involving Hamas in the process. Two and a half years ago, he hosted a high-powered international conference in London with the aim of helping the Palestinian Authority to its feet. Since then he's seen how the situation has only deteriorated. He knows that it's not going to be any easier now. But still he's here, in the belief that one step forward will be followed by another and then no one will be able to argue with success and he'll get all the backing he needs to go all the way. The annals of diplomacy are filled with the names of hopeful and ambitious envoys, but very few success stories. Blair believes he has what it takes to break the chain of failure.