Tony Blair hasn’t even begun his new role as Mideast peace envoy for the Quartet before the disagreements started to fly about precisely what he was supposed to do. And it doesn’t bode well for Tony. According to the U.S., Tony has a purely technical role to play in encouraging Palestinian nation-building. He will not, I repeat, NOT play any role in political negotiations. Got that? We get this from Condi Rice who wants everyone to know that Tony’s not going to muscle in on her turf:
In his new role as envoy to the Middle East, Tony Blair will be charged with shoring up Palestinian institutions, but not with trying to nail down a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians because Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, is handling that job herself, administration officials said Wednesday.
And a bang-up job she’s doing I might add. At least she’s gotten Abbas and Olmert to agree to meet biweekly in principle. And they also have learned how to sing “working toward a political horizon” in lovely two-part harmony. Other than that, I can’t figure out what she’s been doing with her time in the Israel-Palestine region.
Helene Cooper quotes Aaron David Miller on the problematics of Blair’s appointment and Miller is right on the money:
Some Middle East analysts said Wednesday that such a narrow mandate would hamper Mr. Blair’s chances for success.
Indeed, the lack of a link between final status talks and the building of Palestinian institutions is the crux of why previous attempts have been unsuccessful, those analysts say.
“Unless he has the authority to deal with the Israelis on the issue of movement and lifting of barriers, he’s not going to get very far,” said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center who was a senior adviser for Arab-Israeli relations at the State Department under the last three presidents.
“If this is a variation of the Jim Wolfensohn portfolio, where you have a very smart guy who is thrown at the economics of the Palestinian issue, but without the authority to help change the situation on the ground, then this isn’t going to work,” Mr. Miller said.
If the following quotation is accurate (and I wouldn’t credit anything anyone in this Administration says especially when it is spoken anonymously) then Blair just hasn’t “gotten” how hopelessly toothless is the structure of the position he’s accepted:
A senior Bush administration official maintained that Mr. Blair did not press American officials to allow him to take on the final status issues. “That was not a source of conflict,” the official said. He asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
And if this report in Haaretz is accurate and current, then Tony has some rough-sledding ahead:
The Quartet representatives were unable yesterday to reach agreement on the mandate for outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair when he takes up his new post as the Quartet’s special envoy for the Middle East peace process. UN representative Michael Williams, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Yakovlev, European Union representative Mark Otte and U.S. assistant secretary of state David Welch met yesterday for three hours in Jerusalem, mostly focusing on the Blair appointment. Officials in Jerusalem said there were disagreements between the U.S. and the UN, which approve of the appointment, and Russia and the EU, who object.
This is tantamount to an employer hiring someone before they’ve fully agreed on what his job description is supposed to be. But not to worry, Tony’s served as Bush’s trusted poodle for so long I’m sure he won’t stray from the script and actually try to do anything terribly substantive that might step on Condi’s toes.