Come in Mr Peace Envoy: your time is up

Rumours abound of the Right Dishonourable Anthony Blair’s imminent departure from his position as the Quartet’s Peace Envoy.   The Chosen One has occupied that position since the powers-that-be gave it to him in 2007, at the behest of his mate George W. Bush.  It’s highly unlikely that Bush did this because he believed Blair would bring peace, let alone justice, to the ‘Israeli-Palestinian conflict’, and there is little evidence that Blair has brought either over the last eight years.

We know that he persuaded Israel to open some checkpoints at one time another, a mighty achievement to be sure, which the Palestinians seem oddly unmoved by, but which hopefully will be noted when the Nobel Prize Committee next meets.  And if they don’t take notice, perhaps God will remember that the Chosen One’s move to Jerusalem coincided with his conversion to Catholicism, though it can’t really be said that Blair has followed in Jesus’ footsteps.

This is not a man to go soul-searching in the desert when he has clearly spent so much time looking at his reflection in the mirror.    Jesus may have had his moment of doubt and pain, but Blair has never had his – his ego and sense of destiny are much too powerful.   Nor is he the man to be chasing the moneylenders out of the temple, not when so many of them have been pouring vast sums into his offshore accounts.

If Blair’s peacemaking efforts leave something to be desired, no one can say that he’s been idle.  Ever since he installed himself at the American Colony hotel he has used his position as a strategic base for a moneygrabbing consultancy scam that has no precedent in modern politics.

The man has simply hoovered up lolly, and the fact that he has no ethical or moral constraints regarding who he lends his services to – and quite often no way of measuring what these services are or whether they are even worth the fees he charges – has meant that pretty much every day in the Promised Land has been a good day for him,and for his old cronies who have jumped aboard his train bound for glory.

So this is a man who will spend more time with Philistines than beggars or widows,  the richer and more well-connected the better, whether he’s hanging with them at Davos or jetsetting from one gilded tyrant to another.  But don’t you cynics go thinking that he has devoted his eight years in the Holy Land entirely to Mammon and the Golden Calf, while bombs were raining down on Gaza and Israeli settlers were sucking up Palestinian land.   Exaro News has just revealed that Blair lobbied Hillary Clinton and others to win the network contract for the Watiniya mobile-telephone operator in the Occupied Territories.

This is vaguely reminiscent of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s wellmeaning naif in the hollow BBC Middle East drama The Honourable Woman, except that there is nothing naive or well-meaning about Blair, and there is definitely no honour.   Wataniya is a client of the Qatar-owned company Qtel, and Blair has acted as go-between for Qatar in a number of business deals.  Qtel is also a client of JP Morgan, which was one of the first companies to throw cash – some £2 million a year according to some estimates – at the Chosen One to help him through the lean period after he stepped down as Prime Minister.

Blair naturally says he didn’t know this, when he sent Clinton a letter steeped in Blairspeak, warning that a failure for Wataniya would ‘send entirely the wrong signal for the transformative change agenda’ in the Occupied Territories.  But yea, it came to pass that the Quartet heard the Chosen One, and so did the Israeli government, and Wataniya Mobile won the contract, proving that rich men may not always be able to enter the kingdom of heaven, but rich men with the right contacts can certainly push through a transformative agenda.

For all these reasons it will be good to see him to go, because he is such an unbearable symbol of our age, with his sanctimonious humanitarian hypocrisy,his unbridled greed, his reckless warmongering and his uncritical Zionist cheerleading.

But his departure also raises the question of why the Quartet put him there in the first place and why it left him in post even when the conflict of interest could be spotted on a satellite camera from Mars.  It is somewhat pathetic to hear diplomats declaring only now that he was ‘not effective’ had become a ‘standing joke’ with ‘no credibility’ in Palestine or in the Middle East in general.   Many people knew that from the moment he got the job, but these weren’t powerful people so nobody paid any more attention to them than Blair does.   Yet now even John Prescott admits that Blair’s actions in Iraq contributed to the catastrophe that is still unfolding there.

So let us shed no tears for the Chosen One, but let’s not forget that the most powerful countries on the planet chose this man to bring ‘peace’ to the most searing and longlasting conflict in the Middle East, and then allowed him to use his position for no other purpose beyond his own enrichment.

Because whatever you think of Blair himself, that incredible decision does not suggest that the Quartet had any more interest in peace or justice than he did.

Gaza in Ruins

More than eight months after Israel’s latest high-tech onslaught on Gaza, large sections of Gaza City continue to resemble the dead cities left over from twentieth century saturation bombing or 21st century ‘chimneyvilles’ that Sherman’s army left in Atlanta and Georgia.    Looking at the shocking photographs of the devastation during the last week or so reminded me of the three visits I made to Gaza in the mid-80s and during the first Intifada.

I thought of the people I met then, the pupils I taught English to; the smiling kids waving V-for Victory signs everywhere; the families who invited me in for dinner; the long conversations about politics, Zionism, national liberation and colonialism and so many subjects with people who unlike so many of my own compatriots, could not ignore politics and history because politics and history had not ignored them.

I remembered the deep red sunsets, the palm trees and the big waves that nearly dragged me out to sea one day; and the young Palestinian who swam out to see if I was ok and escorted me back to shore; the schoolchildren singing ‘One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow’ in English.  I remembered the teachers, the students, the former prisoners, the families living in tents because their houses had been demolished by the IDF.

Back then Gaza was a difficult place to live in – a pressure cooker with 800,000 Palestinians crammed into a tiny strip of land that had been reduced still further by the Israeli settlers.  You could see the ‘Sharon boulevards’ in many of the refugee camps where the IDF had blasted thoroughfares for their vehicles and crushed the armed resistance in the early 1970s.   In Djabalia camp you could walk past the large sewage pool where the conquerors made dozens of Palestinian men and boys of all ages sit or kneel for an entire afternoon after their first arrival.

Much of Gaza City was poor and rundown, but it was also a vibrant and surprisingly appealing place where thousands of people tried as best they could to lead ordinary lives under the weight of the occupation.  But even during the first Intifada I never saw anything that remotely compares to the apocalyptic devastation inflicted on Gaza last summer, and which has yet to be repaired.

Less than five percent of the aid that was promised to Gaza five months ago has actually reached it, according to the IRIN news agency, and donors now appear to be making their donations conditional on a political outcome which isolates and marginalizes Hamas.   One senior EU diplomat told IRIN last week that donors are waiting to see if the Palestinian Authority ‘gets a foothold in Gaza’ and produces ‘political certainty.’

And it has now emerged that the Quartet is withholding reconstruction assistance in order to pressure Hamas to accept certain preconditions.  And who is leading this process?  Why it’s none other than Peace Envoy Tony Blair.   According to Mousa Abu-Marzkouk, a senior member of Hamas political bureau chief, the Quartet has demanded that the following conditions must be met in order for Gaza to receive reconstruction assistance:

  • Accept the Palestinian reconciliation.
  • Accept the political programme based on a Palestinian state on 1967 borders.
  • Reiterate that Hamas is a Palestinian faction with only Palestinian goals and it is not part of any Islamist movement with regional goals.
  • Adopt the two-state solution as a final, not temporary, solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
  • Send an assurance message to Egypt that Gaza is not a terror base for Sinai terrorists and hold talks with the Egyptian government to stop terrorism in Sinai.

No one will be surprised to hear that Blair has laid down these conditions, which naturally are not matched by any comparable conditions directed at Israel. As is always the case with the Palestinians, the occupied/bombed population is expected to acquiesce to the demands of the occupier/bomber nation and its allies, which in the case of conditions three and four, now include Egypt, whose dictatorship Blair is advising in addition to his tireless work for world peace (that was irony folks).

The Quartet’s attempts to blackmail Hamas are really directed at the population of Gaza itself, at the tens of thousands of people who are still living in schools or bombed-out buildings.  This is a continuation of a game that Israel and the ‘international community’ have been playing ever since 2006, when the Gazans made the mistake of believing that democratic elections entitled them to vote for a government of their choice, which just happened to be Hamas.

And the fact that all this should be happening nine years later, to a population that is moving ever closer towards total ruin and collapse, is a shockingly cynical gambit from which none of those concerned emerges with any credit whatsoever.



The Peace Talks that Died of Boredom

With a noisy sucking of bubbles, the last dregs of the Israeli-Palestinian peace ‘process’ have disappeared down the plughole. The ostensible reason for the collapse was the announcement of a forthcoming national unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas, which caused Netanyahu to suspend talks.  But it is difficult to imagine that anyone involved is surprised by this outcome, because this latest nine-month-old, US-brokered effort has been one of the most singularly fruitless and redundant phases in the history of the Oslo Process.

On one level it represents a total and ignominious failure of American diplomacy, and for the hapless John Kerry in particular.   Throughout the process, Kerry has been unable or unwilling to put any serious pressure on Israel to make meaningful concessions regarding key Palestinian demands, while the onus has remained as always on the Palestinians to ‘recognize’ an Israeli occupation that has continued to expand its settlement program even when talks were going on.

Since the talks began Israel has expanded its settlements in the West Bank by 14,000 units, bringing the Jewish presence in the Occupied Territories to 636,000.   This is not an accidental outcome.    In general the overall emphasis of the peace process has always been on the process rather than the peace – a process that has been overwhelmingly tilted in Israel’s favour.  It allowed Israel to continue and in fact to accelerate its settlement of the West Bank and its encirclement of Jerusalem, while paying lip service to a two-state solution with a subordinate Palestinian entity that often acted as a secondary instrument for imposing the Israeli occupation.

The ‘international community’ – and the United States in particular – mostly went along with this situation, and has always seen peace as dependent on Palestinian subjugation/acquiescence.  In 2006  the Russia/US/EU/UN ‘Quartet’  refused to accept a Hamas electoral victory because Hamas ‘refused to recognize Israel’s existence.’   In fact Hamas has dropped more than enough hints of a willingness to negotiate a ‘truce’ over the issue of recognition, which could have been explored had Israel any desire to do so.

Instead the Quartet first told the Palestinians to participate in democratic elections and then effectively told them to choose another government because it didn’t like the one they elected.  Then it colluded in the Israeli blockade of Gaza after the failed Fatah coup in 2007 – a blockade that has effectively bottled up nearly one million Palestinians in the largest open prison in the world.

For the last seven years the ‘international community’  put its fingers in its ears and sang ‘la la la la la’ as living standards in the Gaza Strip plummeted, in the hope that the Gazans would fold and reject Hamas, and ummed and aahed when Israel blitzed Gaza in 2009 and 2012.

Oddly, ‘peace’ didn’t happen as a result, and nor was it intended to.   For Israel, Hamas has always provided a useful pretext for not negotiating.   Its insistence on recognition is equivalent to a man standing with his boot pressing down on someone’s neck and demanding that his victim ‘recognize’ his right to be holding him down.  A people subject to military occupation, colonization and the forced dispossession  of the territory they inhabit is not obliged to ‘recognize’ the existence of their occupiers.

Those who make such demands are intent on domination and submission rather than ‘peace’, except in the narrowest technical sense of the term.   Israel knows this, the corrupt Palestinian Authority knows it, and so does the ‘international community’ and the United States, but all of them have gone along with it.

The latest journey through the arid terrain of the ‘road map’ is no exception.  Netanyahu continued to expand settlements, while demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a ‘Jewish state.’   Abbas refused, and Israel began stalling on its promises to release prisoners.  Unable to produce a single tangible outcome to present to his people,  even the pliant stooge Abbas  quietly untied his puppet strings – at least for now – and acted like an autonomous agent by seeking international recognition for a Palestinian state in the United Nations.

And now he has agreed on a national unity government with Hamas – something that Israel and the ‘international community’ regard as anathema.   None of this was inevitable.  The United States had, and still has, enormous power that it could have used  to make Israel pursue a real peace rather than a process, but it didn’t use it, and Netanyahu knew that it wouldn’t.   And now, hardly have the talks collapsed, than Kerry has apologized for having suggested that Israel risked  becoming an ‘apartheid state’ if it did not accept a two-state solution.     How pathetic is that?   Very.

Today, nearly thirty percent of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are Palestinians arrested inside Israel who were looking for work.   To all intents and purposes, Israel already is an ‘apartheid state’ and has been for some time.   But the ‘A word’ is still outside the boundaries of respectable mainstream discourse about Israel in the US and so Kerry got his hand slapped and had to say sorry.

And now the ‘honest broker’ is threatening to freeze its annual aid/subsidy to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas ‘terrorists’ join a national consensus government.  You don’t need a degree in political science to work out that these efforts are intended to keep the Palestinians divided – the better to make them accept a ‘peace’ devoid of any semblance of justice.