Tony Blair is expected to meet Palestinian and Israeli leaders this week in an attempt to find a path back to peace negotiations and avert a potential diplomatic collision over a Palestinian bid to win UN recognition of their statehood.
The former British prime minister has reportedly been entrusted with the task of finding a formula to restart talks that would be acceptable to the members of the Middle East quartet – the US, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations – as well as to both sides in the conflict.
Blair met Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, last week and has further meetings scheduled for this week.
The US is accelerating efforts to forestall the Palestinians’ bid to win recognition of their state, according to a report in the New York Times. Barack Obama is anxious to avoid a situation where the US has to veto such an attempt, thus risking the anger of the Arab world. The US has made it clear it will wield its veto if the issue comes to a vote at the security council.
Blair is said to be pushing for a consensus around the key issues of borders and acknowledging Israel as a “Jewish state”. However, Israeli officials are unhappy with Obama’s speech in May in which he spoke of a Palestinian state “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps”, saying this should not be the starting point of talks.
The Palestinians reject formally acknowledging Israel as a Jewish state as it disregards the 20% of the population that is Palestinian and undermines the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.
Both sides have little confidence in the other’s expressed willingness to return to negotiations. There are also difference of opinion within the quartet that may prove difficult to bridge.
Blair has a long track record of negotiating between the Israelis and Palestinians built up over four years as the quartet’s special envoy. According to Daniel Kurtzer, former US ambassador to Israel, the US administration needed a high-profile political figure to push the parties towards negotiations.
“There is a bit of outsourcing going on to someone like Tony Blair just to see if he can make something work,” he told Reuters. “If he can, the administration will glom on to it and if he can’t the administration has not soiled its nest.”