Like his mentor Bill Clinton, Tony Blair believes that short-term rhetoric can substitute for serious policies that can and will be pursued. It won't be long before Blair's visions both in the Gulf and in Palestine will be shown to be hollow, and he himself will probably fade from history in unflattering ways.
Blair's peace efforts too extreme, says Israel
From Robert Tait in Jerusalem
Times, UK, 7 April:
ISRAEL has dismissed Tony Blair as “irrelevant” to the Middle East peace process after he said that progress towards a Palestinian state was as important as toppling President Saddam Hussein.
In a sign of increasing tensions between the two sides, Ariel Sharon’s Government described Mr Blair’s comments, made in a BBC interview, as “inappropriate and unbalanced”.
Interviewed by the BBC’s Arabic service last Friday, Mr Blair said: “We have got a situation now where the President of the United States of America . . . has laid out a two-state vision — Israel, recognised by everyone, confident about its security; and a viable Palestinian state.
“I believe it is every bit as important that we make progress on that as we get rid of Saddam.”
Dov Weissglass, Mr Sharon’s chief adviser, responded angrily, telling Israel radio: “We regret that Great Britain is pushing itself out of involvement in the peace process as a result of extreme positions it has adopted. A country that adopts such unbalanced positions cannot expect to have its voice attended to seriously. We will not be able to bear Blair’s statements and we will draw our conclusions.”
The row erupted after it emerged that Mr Sharon had cancelled a meeting scheduled between Ephraim Halevy, his National Security Adviser, and Mr Blair, in the belief that Israel’s concerns would not get a fair hearing.
The Israeli Government has taken an increasingly hostile attitude towards Downing Street in recent months, accusing it of pressing the White House on the Middle East peace process to assuage British domestic concerns over Iraq.
Two weeks ago, the Israeli Foreign Ministry called in Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British Ambassador in Tel Aviv, to protest about remarks by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, in another BBC interview. Mr Straw said that the West had been guilty of double standards in insisting that Iraq implement United Nations resolutions while not making the same demands of Israel.
The latest offensive came as the Prime Minister prepared to meet President Bush today in Northern Ireland to discuss the war in Iraq. The leaders will also discuss the international road map that has been drawn up to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Mr Blair has been urging Mr Bush to publish the plan, which calls for a Palestinian state to be established by 2005, as a counterweight to Arab concerns over the Iraqi campaign.
Mr Sharon met his senior advisers yesterday to discuss the plans. Mr Weissglass will travel to Washington this week to present a list of 15 reservations Israel has, including a demand that Israel should not have to halt settlement activity until there is an end to Palestinian violence.
A Downing Street spokesman said last night: “It’s our strong belief, shared by President Bush, that the road map represents a fair and balanced way forward. As President Bush said at Camp David, we want to see the road map not only published, but implemented, and that will feature in the talks the Prime Minister is having with Mr Bush in Northern Ireland.”