January 12th, 2009

Tony Blair, the Quartet’s Special Envoy for the Middle East since June 2007, has never set foot in Gaza.

This was always an absurd appointment. Brits are the wrong people: we have a long and unhappy imperial history in the region, leaving lots of unresolved issues with both Arabs and Jews. Having built a fine post office in Cairo doesn’t exactly make up for this. Britain has enough current interests in the region in the way of oil and arms deals to ensure suspicion, but not enough to provide useful leverage. That’s before Blair stepped off the plane: a politician with no knowledge of Hebrew or Arabic, little acquaintance with the history or the players, and a personal reputation damaged by his reckless support of G.W. Bush’s Iraq adventure.

What were they all thinking of? It you want a trusted neutral mediator, go for a discreet professional like Martti Ahtisaari. If you want to knock heads together, there’s no substitute for the President of the United States. If you want – like Bush – to do nothing, there are already diplomats on the payroll.

Ending Blair’s expensive junket will not make any difference in Gaza. But it will at least help save the planet by cutting unnecessary travel.

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