By Ali Sawafta
By Ali Sawafta
October 5, 2011, RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters)
A senior Palestinian official called on Wednesday for the replacement of international Middle East envoy Tony Blair, saying the former British leader is biased in favour of Israel and is “of no use at all.”
Mohammed Ishtayeh, a member of the Central Committee of the dominant Fatah movement and a confidant of President Mahmoud Abbas, told Voice of Palestine radio that Blair was no longer trusted to be an impartial mediator.
His comments were the latest in a series of recent public complaints by Palestinian figures about Blair’s effectiveness, but went further by calling for the envoy’s replacement.
Ishtayeh said the Palestinians had also written to the “Quartet” of mediating powers which Blair represents — the European Union, United States, Russia and United Nations — to say its latest proposition for a resumption of stalled peace negotiations was too vague to be meaningful.
Quartet envoys were due to meet in Brussels on Sunday.
“We do not expect much of the Quartet. There is discontent with its envoy Mr. Tony Blair,” Ishtayeh said.
“Our general evaluation of his efforts is that he has become of no use at all. He has developed a large bias in favour of the Israeli side and he has lost a lot of his credibility.”
“We hope the Quartet will reconsider the appointment of this person,” he added, in the most explicit public suggestion to date that the Palestinians now want Blair to go.
Blair’s office had no immediate comment on the remarks. A spokesman earlier this week said he was unaware of any formal complaints about the envoy’s work and was continuing to focus on a return to direct talks between the parties. “It is the job of the Quartet representative to interact with both sides,” the spokesman said.
Blair has been the Quartet’s envoy since 2007, focussing his efforts on easing the practical conditions of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank so the Palestinian economy can develop and form a solid foundation on which Abbas’s Palestinian Authority can build the infrastructure of a future state.
The economy has grown and in the past two years Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has created most of the attributes of statehood, in government institutions, administration and security. But Israeli forces remain in ultimate control.
Since peace talks collapsed a year ago, with the expiry of an Israeli moratorium on settlement construction, the Palestinians have shifted the focus of their efforts to a bid for statehood at the United Nations, where Abbas formally lodged an application for full membership last month.
The United States has said it will veto that step, insisting along with Israel that a Palestinian state can only come into being via a negotiated, comprehensive treaty with Israel to resolve the 63-year-old Middle East conflict.
A call by the Quartet for the rapid resumption of talks without preconditions was turned down by the Palestine Liberation Organisation last week.
The Palestinians say the Quartet failed to explicitly require Israel to stop building settlements on occupied land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the only condition under which they will agree to restart direct peace talks.
The Quartet formula demanding that neither side undertake unilateral acts which could interfere with the talks was simply too vague, PLO official said.
“I believe the Quartet needs to work on itself more than anything else … The situation does not permit ambiguity. Either settlement stops or there will be no negotiation.”
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Douglas Hamilton; Writing by Douglas Hamilton)