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 )
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
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 ,
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
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
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
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 ,
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
and its other neighbors”
To this end, he is instructed to:
assistance to the Palestinians, working closely with donors and existing coordination
“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
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.
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.
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
“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
to consider allowing construction to resume as this agreement is successfully
implemented -- construction that could, for instance, be limited to
“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.” 
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
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
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 .)
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.
& Trade Union Review
 See www.hm-treasury.gov.uk