Tony Blair stepped down last month as the Middle East envoy of the so-called Quartet — the group comprised of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. To the extent Blair’s assignment was the achievement of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, he clearly didn’t finish the job. But, how did he do?
The most charitable commentators argued that he did a relatively good job during his eight-year tenure, considering that he had been given an impossible task and that his job was unpaid and part time. Others were far more critical.
As the man dispatched in 2007 to foster Palestinian economic development as part of a revitalization effort, the former British prime minister scored some modest successes. The largest of these was the improvement of cellular service in the West Bank and getting the Israelis to remove some checkpoints around Bethlehem, which helped the town’s tourism industry.
But the strongest criticisms centered on how Blair apparently blurred his envoy responsibilities with his profitable consulting business. Thus, while noting that Palestinians gained better cell-phone service thanks to Blair, his detractors pointed to the fact that the improvement also benefited Blair client JPMorgan Chase, whose own clients include investors in the Palestinian mobile phone service.
Let’s also not forget Blair’s business dealings with the strongman regimes of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. While these have nothing to do with his status as Quartet envoy, and while Blair is not the first official of his standing to run a rather successful enterprise with questionable links to suspected human-rights violators, no less than Foreign Policy has commented upon the entrepreneurial side of Blair’s activities, observing that “the full extent of his fortune remains shrouded behind a byzantine corporate structure.” Making peace and making money are two laudable goals, but modern history is replete with examples of the one being sacrificed for the other, and with dire consequences.
The Quartet was formed in a moment of optimism in 2002 as a way for the international community to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace. But that elusive peace will only be reached when both Israel and the Palestinian Authority see that they have more to gain from an agreement than from continued conflict. That point has clearly not been reached yet. And we suspect that it will not be reached without strong international backing and leadership from the United States. With Tony Blair becoming just another diplomat swallowed up in the abyss that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a brighter future will be contingent on the next envoy making peace his No. 1 objective.