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Blair in the West Bank

“If Tony Blair thinks we’re going to roll out a red carpet for him, he’s in for a surprise.”

This is what a senior Palestinian official in the office of Mahmoud Abbas told me when I asked him over the weekend about the visit to the region by the former British prime minister, now a special envoy of the Middle East Quartet.

“The president is not going to welcome him at the entrance to his office and we will send only one police car to accompany his motorcade when it enters Ramallah.”

The Palestinians have never liked Blair, largely because of his close alliance with George W. Bush, and his role in the Iraq war. That’s why it was hard this week to find one Palestinian who was pinning high hopes on Blair’s new mission as the top representative of the Quartet.

As far as most Palestinians and Arabs are concerned, Blair is nothing but a puppet in the hands of Bush. “He’s coming here to help Bush and the Jews,” another Palestinian official in Ramallah told me. “For us, Blair is not an honest broker because he’s biased in favor of Israel.

So if the Palestinians don’t trust Blair and don’t believe that he can make a contribution to the peace process, why are they still willing to deal with him?

The answer is simple: Mahmoud Abbas and his corruption-riddled Fatah faction, beaten harshly by Hamas, need money and cash, even from “infidels and Crusaders” like Bush and Blair. Abbas and his Fatah lieutenants have only one thing in mind: avenging their humiliating defeat in the Gaza Strip at the hands of Hamas.

To this end, they are prepared to ally themselves with anyone who is willing to provide them with millions of dollars and thousands of rifles so that they can fight Hamas. But Abbas is not going to fight Hamas—he never has, which is why Hamas managed to overrun the Gaza Strip so easily.

The name of the game in Middle East diplomacy these days is: “Let’s support the moderate Palestinians against the radicals.” Over the past two years, millions of dollars have been poured on Abbas and Fatah to help them undermine the growing power of Hamas. This tactic has not worked.

On Tuesday, Blair will hear from Abbas and his aides that only if the international community gives them more money and weapons will they be able to wipe out Hamas. Blair, of course, is most likely to buy this plea. He will go back to his partners in the Quartet and urge them to channel more funds to Abbas. And for his part, Abbas will fail to combat Hamas.

Blair is welcome in the Fatah-controlled West Bank only as long as he can promise financial aid and weapons. But it’s only a matter of time before Blair and Bush wake up to find that Hamas has devoured the West Bank. If Bush and Blair want to help Abbas, they must pressure him to establish good governance and to end rampant corruption. That’s the best way to undermine Hamas.



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