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Report: Blair's 'Peace' Ideas May be Motivated by Profit

A British daily charges Middle East envoy Tony Blair with lining his own pockets, and those of the PA leadership, in the name of peace.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 9/12/2010, 4:30 PM / Last Update: 9/12/2010, 4:44 PM

Defense Ministry spokesperson

The British paper Daily Mail has charged former British Prime Minister Tony Blair with exploiting the cause of Middle East peace in order to line his pockets. A recent deal involving a Palestinian Authority telephone network, in which Blair was involved as an international envoy, saved a bank which pays Blair's salary from taking a loss.

Blair was heavily involved in getting Israeli leaders to sign over frequencies to a new PA cell phone company, Watania. Israel had held back on allowing Watania to use the frequencies, which IDF commanders said they needed for military communications.

Blair met several times with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and raised the issue of the frequencies requested by Watania, which were eventually awarded to the cell phone start-up despite security concerns. Blair argued that the issue was important to the PA economy and to the peace process.

By getting the go-ahead for Watania, Blair saved the American bank JP Morgan an estimated $200 million. The bank stood to lose money due to its involvement in the $2 billion loan with which JP Morgan client Qtel, a Qatari firm, had purchased Wataniya from its original owners.

JP Morgan employs Blair as a consultant and pays him more than $3 million a year.

Blair has faced pressure in Britain to explain his earnings in the time since he left office. He has earned over $20 million, some of which is thought to have come from deals he made while working as a “peace envoy” on behalf of the International Quartet.

Besides his involvement in the Watania affair, Blair is also suspected of using his ties in Libya to do business on behalf of JP Morgan in the country.

A spokesman for Blair said the former prime minister was unaware of any connection between Watania and JP Morgan. He became involved with one goal, “to help the Palestinians,” he said.

The Watania deal has turned a profit for the family of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and several other PA higher-ups. Abbas's son Tarek runs the advertising agency that has contracted with Watania as its lead agency, while his friend, Firas Nasruddin, runs the company hired to provide Watania with security.

In April, the PA passed a law banning the sale of Israeli mobile phone cards within the territories it controls in Judea and Samaria – a law that is likely to profit Watania and thus Abbas's son Tarek and a second son, Yasser, who also has ties to the firm.

The month before, Watania was the center of scandal when it received millions in U.S. aid meant for small businesses at Chairman Abbas's request.