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How Tony Got His Groove Back

What has Tony Blair been up to these days, you wonder? A reporter from the UK Sunday Times caught up with him recently in his new digs at the American Colony hotel in East Jerusalem, and discovered that Blair is doing nothing less than (if he says so himself) “dealing with an existential question for millions of people that can determine the security for the region and the wider world.”

That existential question, of course, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Blair declares “a bigger order of problem” than anything he faced as Prime Minister of Britain. Is it too soon to shower him with thanks for assuming such a solemn obligation? He seems to be shouldering the burden manfully:

Seeing him now, relaxed and reveling in his new role, he looks like a man given a second chance, a prisoner released from jail, or maybe out on parole, in a hurry to win back the respect and popularity he once took for granted. “One thing you could say about me,” he says with a shrug, “is that I have no problem moving on.”

Isn’t it fortuitous for world harmony that the needs of the “peace process” always seem to dovetail perfectly with the causes of redemption and personal grandeur of various statesmen?

So what, exactly, is Tony Blair’s mission?

His job is to help prepare the Palestinians for statehood; since he has been in place, Palestinian per capita income has fallen, roadblocks and support for Hamas have increased. Notwithstanding the recent Hamas ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, the picture still looks bleak.

What is Blair’s conceptual understanding of the challenges which have prevented Palestinian statehood? The profile doesn’t say much, but we do learn that

Blair had clearly reasoned that this struggle required a mediator who could muster some belief in achievable resolution, that Israel would learn to trust, that Palestinians would stop hating and be rewarded with a state of their own. … His plans include renewed efforts on the northern Gaza sewage project, an opening up between Nablus and Jenin to permit free passage of agricultural workers, an industrial park sponsored by the Germans to attract investment.

In other words, Tony Blair is repeating the mistakes of every one of his predecessors. He has no idea what he’s doing.

Here’s my two cents: economic development in the Palestinian territories has never correlated with peaceful Palestinian behavior. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. The years before major surges in Palestinian violence have been marked not by declining fortunes, but by economic flourishing. The two decades which preceded the first intifada were home to double-digit annual GDP growth in the territories, as the Israeli economy opened to Palestinians. The Oslo years similarly saw a lavish, externally-provided regimen of economic promotion for the Palestinians, and four years of suicide bombings followed. And let’s not forget the correlation between foreign aid and Palestinian terrorism, which is chillingly chronicled by Steven Stotsky in the new issue of the Middle East Quarterly.

Tony Blair’s prescription is one part debilitating paternalism, one part mindless provision of foreign aid, one part economic development projects which have the durability of kleenex, and one part good vibes:

The “boss”, as he is still called, takes me over to a UN map of the West Bank and begins to point out strategic locations; there is something of the excited amateur enthusiast in his urgency, and it’s curious to see the big-picture politician so involved in the minutiae. “Look, the bits in red are the settlements . . . these are roadblocks, these are earth mounds.”

Blair can afford to be an amateur enthusiast: his countrymen do not risk being killed because of his mistakes.



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