Quartet envoy Blair sold a pup?


“… since 2000 [the Palestinian economy has suffered] a 40 per cent fall in per capita GDP … this represents a fall in incomes twice as severe as both the worst two years of the US Great Depression in the 1930s and the Argentinian economic crisis at the turn of the Millennium …


“In 2005, Palestinian GDP was only 7 per cent of Israel’s, and the average Palestinian income was only 6 per cent that of an Israeli.”


(Ed Balls, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, 19 June 2007 [1])


Ever since I heard that ex-Prime Minister Blair (remember him?) was appointed as the Quartet’s Representative in the Middle East, I have been wondering why he accepted it.  I presume he wanted another stage on which to act, in order to ward off withdrawal symptoms brought on by his enforced retirement from 10 Downing Street.  But how could he construct a drama worthy of his talents out of the task assigned to him by the Quartet?


He is not to have any role in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which would have kept him in the limelight – in the unlikely event of Israel agreeing to serious negotiations.  This was made clear in the Quartet statement on 27 June 2007 [2], in which his appointment was announced.  Could it be that he thought he had the role of presiding over Camp David Mark II and accepted on that basis, only to find that he had been given a very different, and a much less exciting role, from which his predecessor, James Wolfensohn, resigned in frustration?  Could it be that his best friend in the world, George Bush, who proposed him for the job, sold him a pup?


(The Quartet – the US, the EU, Russia and the UN – is the self-appointed international guardian of right and wrong in Palestine.  It appointed itself in 2002.  In reality, it is the US: it exists to give the cloak of international approval to US actions in Palestine.  Anybody who doubts that should read the leaked “End of Mission” report by Alvaro de Soto [3], who was UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process for two years until 7 May 2007.)


Blair’s many fans around the world thought he deserved the role of presiding over a Camp David Mark II, because of his great success in Northern Ireland.  Bizarrely, many people, who should know better, seem to think that the settlement in Northern Ireland was the product of his extraordinary negotiating skills, which are equally applicable to Palestine.  In fact, the chief attribute that he brought to bear on the Northern Ireland problem was that he was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) and was therefore in a position to exert political and economic pressure on Northern Ireland parties to make them accept proposals they wouldn’t otherwise accept.  Furthermore, he had the support of successive Irish Prime Ministers (and of successive US Presidents) for what he was doing, and they too were in a position to exert political and economic pressure on the parties.  The pressure that brought about the final deal between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein in March 2007 was the threat by Peter Hain, Blair’s Northern Ireland Secretary, to post a bill for water charges to each household in Northern Ireland.  The agreement, plus a little money from the UK Treasury, has meant that there will be no water charges until April 2008 at the earliest.


But Blair is not in position to apply any pressure to either of the parties in Palestine.  Only the US can do that and, as at Camp David Mark I, the US will be in charge in the unlikely event of negotiations taking place between the parties.  This was emphasised by US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in a press briefing on 19 July 2007 [4], when she said that “the United States is committed to lead” what she described as the “political track”.


Blair’s role, according to the Quartet statement appointing him, is:


“to help Palestinians as they build the institutions and economy of a viable state in Gaza and the West Bank, able to take its place as a peaceful and prosperous partner to Israel and its other neighbors”


To this end, he is instructed to:


“Mobilize international assistance to the Palestinians, working closely with donors and existing coordination bodies


“Help to identify and secure appropriate international support in addressing the institutional governance needs of the Palestinian State, focusing as a matter of urgency on the rule of law


“Develop plans to promote Palestinian economic development, including private sector partnerships, building on previously agreed frameworks, especially concerning access and movement”


A necessary condition for the economic development in the West Bank and Gaza is the end of Israeli occupation and access to the outside world without Israeli interference.  And the same goes for the establishment of Palestinian state institutions: how can “the institutional governance needs of the Palestinian State” be addressed when West Bank and Gaza are under Israeli occupation?  There is no Palestinian state, and not the slightest prospect of one.


Blair’s mandate is an exercise in make believe – in order to give the appearance that the Quartet is taking action to address Palestinian problems, when it is not.  Palestinians have one overarching problem – Israeli occupation – and, since it came into being in 2002, the Quartet has done nothing to address that.


Today, Israel controls every person and thing that goes in and out of the West Bank and Gaza, and most movement within the West Bank as well.  Israel has no interest in seeing economic life improve for Palestinians.  On the contrary, its objective is to make life as miserable as possible for Palestinians in the hope that some of them leave.  Its problem is, as it always has been, that there are too few Jews and too many Arabs in Palestine.  Starving them out by preventing food aid coming in is not a viable option for Israel, because it amounts to ethnic cleansing – and even the Quartet would object to that.  But economic strangulation by cutting off access can be dressed up by Israel as necessary security measures – and experience has shown that this is acceptable to the Quartet.


The Agreement on Movement and Access

Blair’s predecessor as Quartet envoy was former head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn.  He was appointed in April 2005, with special responsibility for making arrangements for Gaza in the event of Israeli “disengagement” – which took place a few months later in August 2005.


Wolfensohn’s greatest achievement was the Agreement on Movement and Access, which was signed by the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority in November 2005.  This was concerned principally with access to/from Gaza from/to Israel and, for the first time, between Gaza and Egypt.  It was described in the following glowing terms by Condoleezza Rice when she announced it in Jerusalem on 15 November 2005:


“This agreement is intended to give the Palestinian people freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives. The agreement covers six topics.


“First, for the first time since 1967, Palestinians will gain control over entry and exit from their territory. This will be through an international crossing at Rafah, whose target opening date is November 25th.


“Second, Israel and the Palestinians will upgrade and expand other crossings for people and cargo between Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. This is especially important now because Israel has committed itself to allow the urgent export of this season’s agricultural produce from Gaza.


“Third, Palestinians will be able to move between Gaza and the West Bank; specifically, bus convoys are to begin about a month from now and truck convoys are to start a month after that.


“Fourth, the parties will reduce obstacles to movement within the West Bank. It has been agreed that by the end of the year the United States and Israel will complete work to lift these obstacles and develop a plan to reduce them.


“Fifth, construction of a Palestinian seaport can begin. The Rafah model will provide a basis for planned operations.


“Sixth, the parties agree on the importance of the airport. Israel recognizes that the Palestinian Authority will want to resume construction on the airport. I am encouraging Israel to consider allowing construction to resume as this agreement is successfully implemented -- construction that could, for instance, be limited to non-aviation elements.


“This agreement is a good step forward. With the international community, Israel and the Palestinian Authority must keep working hard to make these measures work in practice.” [5]


Virtually nothing of this has been realised in practice – and what little was realised by way of access in and out of Gaza has ceased since mid-June 2007, when the legitimate Hamas-led Palestinian Authority was overthrown.


Contrary to what Rice said would happen, the Rafah crossing into Egypt was never under Palestinian control.  Israel was always in a position to prevent its opening by blocking the EU monitors from crossing into Gaza from Israel to assume their positions at the crossing.


The crossings into Israel from Gaza are directly under Israeli control and they have been closed regularly by Israel for long periods, ostensibly for security reasons.


(The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Occupied Palestinian Territory compiles detailed statistics about many aspects of life for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.  It is an invaluable source of information about the opening of crossings, about checkpoints in the West Bank and much else besides.  See its website [6].)


There has been no progress whatsoever on other aspects of the Agreement on Movement and Access: the reduction of obstacles to movement in the West Bank, the provision of transport links for people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, the reopening of Gaza airport and the construction of a Gaza seaport.


It is no wonder that James Wolfensohn resigned in frustration in May 2006.  Representative Blair has now been charged by the Quartet with taking over where Wolfensohn failed.



David Morrison

Labour & Trade Union Review

10 September  2007



[1]  See www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

[2]  www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2007/jun/87431.htm

[3]  image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2007/06/12/DeSotoReport.pdf

[4]  www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2007/88682.htm

[5]  www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2005/56890.htm

[6]  www.ochaopt.org/