At the end of June Tony Blair will no longer be the Quartet representative. Eight years of inspiration for the comedians and satirists are over – they will now engage in their last final pot shots at the failed warmonger turned failed peacemaker. He was a deliciously easy target.
Yet for all the criticism, Blair was just the symptom of a peace process architecture in ruins. He was not the cause of the problems but just never sought to remedy them. Blair, was a spoke in the broken wheel rotating in an endless groundhog day. He failed to challenge an unsustainable process but he was not the only one. He acquiesced in the near 50-year-old Israeli occupation never challenging the unsustainable status quo. Many argue Blair failed in his eight years but a compelling case can be made that he was an outstanding success in the “Yo Blair” role George Bush engineered for him.
He was a cog in hugely well-financed peace process industry, perhaps the most lucrative of all time. All hail the hallowed peace process. Doff your caps to the altar of talking. Billions of dollars and euros were spent on maintaining the illusion that the Oslo accords were still alive, 16 years after they were due to end and that a two-state solution was still on the table even as settlers were busy burying it in concrete. The peace process industry developed a lingo all of its own, with a multi-volume encyclopedia of clichés repeated the world over.
This industry depends on the continuance of talks or at worst the potential of talks. At all costs it must be kept going. The oxygen were rounds of talks, the nutrients were the dollars and Euros that showered the industry.
Blair had in fact a pathetically weak role merely to help build the Palestinian economy and institutions but without the political clout to achieve it. It was meant to be thus. His mandate was fit for a knave at the court of King George. But for some obscure reason Blair accepted it, a mandate his predecessor, James Wolfensohn, grew tired of after a mere 11 months. It is amazing that someone of his then stature as an ex-British prime minister accepted these terms.
Blair was a high profile figure with a low profile role. Many could not just accept that Blair was there to barter over bus routes, checkpoints and mobile phone coverage. Half of Blair’s constituency, the Gaza , was practically off limits to him for security reasons. He was only able to visit Gaza twice as the representative. Envoys should not be waving to crowds like celebrities. They should be a discreet go-between mediating behind the scenes with the trust of both sides, not just one. One senior diplomat in Jerusalem told me how much he dreaded the “Blair circus.”
Is the answer an envoy with a proper mandate? Should there be a full-time, fully empowered envoy with a proper political mandate answerable not to a host of masters but just the United Nations secretary-general? And as Tony Blair’s former Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell has argued, Hamas must be included in talks.
It would be an improvement on the status quo but nowhere near enough. Aside from anything else there already exists a U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, who has even less of a role than Blair. (In case you missed it, he is Nickolay Mladenov from Bulgaria).
The Quartet must be retired as well. It was a by-product of the infamous road map for peace. But it was only ever a single player with backing supporting vocalists. It was not even a quartet given that the U.N. and EU were meant to be half of it. It was a U.S. trap to anchor other international actors to their position including for example never talking to Hamas.
Has the U.S. done anything to justify the sole sponsor of the “peace process?” Is it just impossible for Washington to admit that perhaps it alone cannot break the cycle? Can even the U.S. afford a lame peace process with no end product for another decade?
The French, amongst others, are challenging the mechanism. The draft United Nations Security Council Resolution calling for an 18-month timetable to end the conflict with a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders could be the end for the Quartet. Israel will hate both the timetable and the messenger. It wants to maintain the asymmetrical negotiating framework where the occupier dictates the framework to the occupied, the latter begging for small concessions. The international community has to step in, uphold international law and dictate the essential parameters of a deal above all that the occupation must end. The Arab peace initiative must be implemented as the final stage pursuant to an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory.
President Obama must muster the courage to forego the U.S. monopoly on this issue. The European Union, financially stretched as it is, must no longer act as the unquestioning financier to a process that can never deliver. All the local belligerent parties must be left in no doubt that a final peace deal is an international and regional necessity.
This article by Chris Doyle, originally appeared in Al Arabiya