Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is preparing to step back from his role as envoy for the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.
After nearly eight years, the Blair has recognized that a frontline role is no longer tenable, according to several people familiar with the situation. His move comes amid deep unease in parts of Washington and Brussels over his poor relations with senior Palestinian Authority figures and sprawling business interests, noted the Financial Times.
According to the newspaper, Blair is embarking on delicate negotiations to recast his Middle East role but is determined to remain part of the peace process. He met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to discuss a possible role change. He reportedly also spoke to Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who is pushing for a revamp of the Quartet and for Europe to take a more robust stance on Israel’s conduct.
If Blair does step aside or take an informal position it would end the controversial arrangement that has made him a fixture of Middle East diplomacy while conducting private business with some regional governments that he also deals with through the Quartet.
No final decisions have yet been taken by the Quartet but a clarification of Blair’s role could come later this week, noted the Financial Times.
Blair’s office declined to comment.
Although Kerry is a supporter of Blair’s continued involvement, some other senior figures in Washington told the Financial Times they wanted Blair to step aside, with concerns including his multiple charitable, diplomatic and commercial interests.
Some senior diplomats said Blair was being eased out of the position. “It is long overdue,” said one diplomat briefed on the discussions. “He has been ineffective in this job. He has no credibility in this part of the world.”
Another person close to the Obama administration said, according to the Financial Times, “Tony Blair is neither an asset nor a liability, but his current role is no longer viable.”
The Quartet was set up in Madrid in 2002 as part of efforts to find a comprehensive settlement to the conflict between Israel and the PA. In 2011 the group suggested a timetable which it said would bring forth a peace agreement by the end of 2012, one of several initiatives proposed by the Quartet which have failed.
The group has been mostly silent over the past year as it let U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry try to broker a deal between the sides. Kerry’s efforts ultimately failed when the PA torpedoed talks by requesting to join 15 international agencies in breach of the conditions of the negotiations.
Blair recently angered Hamas when he demanded that the group clarify whether it’s an Islamist group or if it is interested in peace. Responding to the comments, Deputy Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk accused Blair of imposing “a new set of preconditions before Gaza could be rebuilt.”