Saturday, June 25 2016

Palestine Papers: Blair Criticised for Pro-Israel Bias

 Tony Blair was criticised by Palestinian officials for being biased in favour of Israeli security needs and seeming to advocate an ‘apartheid-like approach to dealing with the occupied West Bank”, according to the leaked ‘Palestine papers’.

Blair is the British envoy of the Middle East Quartet, which is a group made up of the United Nations, the US, the EU and Russia and is designed to mediate in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.

Blair’s duty as the envoy to the quartet is described as being to “boost the West Bank economy and improve Palestinian governance” but he has been criticised for prioritising Israeli security needs over Palestinian economic needs.

One memo, for example, by Palestinian Authority’s (PA) negotiations support unit reads:

“The overall tone, without making any judgment as to intent, is paternalistic and frequently uses the style and jargon of the Israeli occupation authorities.” “Some of the terms (eg 'separate lanes' and 'tourist-friendly checkpoints') are unacceptable to Palestinians.”

That Blair seems to prioritise Israeli security needs over Palestinian economic needs may come as little surprise to those who witnessed Blair’s statement on Israeli television that when it comes to security, I'm 100 percent on Israel's side.”

His comments were made following the Israeli attack on the Gaza aid flotilla.
In a comment piece for the Guardian, Seumas Milne argued the need for “authentic leaders” to deliver real peace and justice in the Middle East, especially given the recent revelations by the Palestine papers of the extent to which the PA has decayed as an “authentic national liberation movement” and how far it has “drifted from its national moorings.”
Milne argues that the revelations in the Palestine papers show a “gross imbalance of powers”, with Western powers repeatedly tipping the scales further against the Palestinian people. He further adds that the negotiations for a peace process has become a “charade” to “maintain the status quo rather than deliver the promised two-state solution”.
This assessment is supported by the Guardian’s report on Tony Blair’s own role within the peace process as a high-level middleman who, it appears, is not taken too seriously by the Israelis and, on the other hand, is described as “offensive” by PA officials in his language which is framed around the needs of the Israelis.
The Guardian article highlights several instances which Blair lauded as successes in his role but which delivered little in way of substance for the Palestinians. Furthermore, an example is given which highlights Blair’s seeming lack of influence with the Israelis. The Guardian report cited Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s chief negotiator, saying in 2009:
“Tony Blair goes and says he got Israel to remove a roadblock in Jericho. It was [Israeli defence ministry official Eitan] Dangot who removed it because I asked him. It was not Blair or [US defence official Paul] Selva.”
Is it for this lack of substance and his pro-Israeli bias that UK taxpayers are footing the bill for Tony Blair’s role?
Milne ends his comment piece by arguing that the lopsided balance of power in the Israeli-Arab saga must change otherwise the result will be the fuelling of conflict in the Middle East. The neutrality of Blair as the envoy for the group that is designed to negotiate peace has been proven to be compromised; the US’ record of pro-Israeli bias is well documented.
Lord Patten of Barnes highlighted in June last year that the European Union is Israel's biggest trade partner and the largest provider of development assistance to Palestine but, he argued, “it has been content to play a quiet third fiddle to the US.”
Perhaps now is the time for that to change.

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