The Miguel and Tony show

In an interview in today’s El País, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, Spain’s Foreign Affairs Minister and ex-EU Envoy to the Middle-East, has reaffirmed his confidence in Tony Blair’s ability to get the job done in the Middle East before January 2009 in his role as the envoy of the Quartet in the region. Whilst to some the bluffness of this statement might seem a bit like saying “I reckon my cat’s going to have a crap next Thursday at 11.35,” Moratinos has total faith in Blair, who is “enormously respected by those around Mahmoud Abbas [President of the Palestine Authority and leader of the secular al-Fatah party, currently in control of the West Bank], as well as by Israel and America.” “Ahem”, I hear you say, “so that’ll be the same America that has so much respect for Blair that it treated him like a slightly doddery relative throughout the Iraq invasion.” Well, yes and no.

Tony the tiger

Though Moratinos has dressed his unwavering support for Tony up in vague ideas about the man’s determination rather than getting into specific details, there are theories doing the rounds that Tony will undergo a Supermanesque transformation from Bush’s diffident poodle into a roaring (well, you get the drift) tiger.  

Firstly, Blair is no longer responsible for upholding the special relationship between the US and Britain (roughly translated as “stay on side or else we’ll fuck you over like we did at Suez”), so he’ll have more room for manoeuvre; and connected to this, he’ll also, at least in theory, be representing the interests of the other three members of the Quartet (EU, Russia and the UN). None of the other members of the Quartet has to deal with an Israeli lobby internally, though neither do they hold anwhere near as much sway with Israel as the US does. Secondly, having made a dog’s arse of things in Iraq, the US commitment to single-handedly changing the world for the better has waned and it realises that without a reasonable level of international support its initiatives lack credibility, so Blair might get beyond the flying-jacketed backslapping he achieved with Bush over Iraq (possibly getting the US to tweak the screws on Israel, to which it donates 3$bn a year).  

Blair also has the advantage of being a big-hitter on the international scene, and can get easy access to the right people and kick up a fuss if things don’t stay on course, and his tenacity in getting a solution for Northern Ireland adds to his credentials.    

Playing hard to get with Hamas

Whilst it all sounds fairly rosy so far, pretending Hamas (the hard-line majority party in the Palestinian Parliament, and currently in control of the Gaza Strip) doesn’t really exist is likely to put a spoke in the works, as refusing to deal with Palestine’s other head is going to doom any solution to failure, and the economic strangulation of the Gaza Strip is only likely to radicalise its supporters. The old Cold-War tactic of economically propping up friends (Abbas’s West Bank) so as to get Hamas supporters to turn against their party in Gaza may work, but there again, it might not.

Israel

And then there are the Israelis. There is widespread popular support for an end to violence rather than victory, especially after the damage the country experienced from Hezbollah and Palestine last summer, but the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) works on narrow electoral margins and coalition-forming, more often than not with the kingmakers from the radical right. The recent appointment of Shimon Peres in the largely symbolic role of President is a positive sign, but loyalties shift very quickly in Israeli politics, especially when peace deals are in the offing. A solution with Abbas would be palatable for many Israelis, but the armed forces will continue provoking Hamas, which has so far been unwilling to accept the existence of Israel, in order to justify more incursions into Gaza and thus prolong the downward spiral of violence.

Solana out in the cold

The affable but somewhat ineffective Javier Solana – EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy – is yet again being left on the sidelines. Firstly cast out of the limelight by Blair’s appointment and then kneed in the groin by his countryman Moratinos’ support for Blair’s role, Solana has been damning the project with exceedingly faint praise

Whilst Moratinos’ brimming optimism is a good sign, a solution before 2009 is not the sort of thing you’d want to bet your house on, and without   some sort of initiative for sorting out the Hamas situation, the conference being touted for September in New York is unlikely to get much done in terms of a long-term solution.

  

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~ by Daniel on July 23, 2007.

2 Responses to “The Miguel and Tony show”

  1. Welcome back to blogging action Daniel. I would really like to think that something could come out of this but it is so difficult to be optimistic when you look at the players involved, Tony Bleary included. A less ideological president than Bush might have used the end of his second term to apply some pressure on Israel but I don’t see Dubbya being very interested in that one – he doesn’t seem to care about his legacy; although Blair undoubtedly does. All that talk about the need for Palestinian elections followed by a boycott of the legitimately elected winners is a disaster. I suspect all we are going to see are some meagre measures to keep the people of Gaza just above starvation level until they agree to vote for the “right” people. It’s a miserable outlook which could end up affecting us all.

  2. You’re right about Bush and his legacy – the bloke just couldn’t give a toss. Maybe he feels it’s too late to salvage anything, maybe he just can’t be bothered any more. Condi Rice seems to be running the show on foreign policy now, and she’ll be keener to get results (maybe to boost her chances of getting the Republican party nomination for the presidential elections in 2008); she also ‘understands’ international relations and takes a less ideological stance than the now largely off-the-scene Neocons.

    But without somehow including Hamas, any solution is dead in the water.

    And thanks for the ‘welcome back’.

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