Blair peace quest is a waste, say Israeli and Palestinian leaders

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The Independent Online

Leaders of both sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict believe that Tony Blair may prove to be a "lame duck" figure in his quest to restart the deadlocked Middle East peace process.

Senior figures from both camps warned yesterday that the Prime Minister would be wasting his time if he devotes his last months in office to an attempt to resolve the crisis.

Many view Mr Blair and President George Bush as leaders weakened by the conflict in Iraq. Even leading Israelis, who admire theMr Blair, expect nothing to come of his promised return to the area. "It won't lead to anything. It can't lead to anything. There is no solution that the sides are interested to reach," the recently retired former head of Israel's National Security Council, Maj-Gen Giora Eiland, said. He added that Mr Blair's belief that he can influence events "can't be based on any previous experience... Based on what? - his will?"

The Prime Minister visited the Middle East last month with a plan that he hoped could end the isolation of the Palestinians, who have been denied western aid and have had no formal contact with Israel since the Hamas organisation won this year's election. Hamas does not accept the existence of the state of Israel.

Mr Blair proposed that Palestine's President, Mahmoud Abbas, should form an administration modelled on the Lebanese government, which includes ministers from the equally militant Hizbollah, although the administration as a whole is committed to peace - but the idea was rejected by Hamas's Damascus-based leadership.

The Prime Minister told the Labour Party's annual conference: "Until I leave office I will dedicate myself... to advancing peace between Israel and Palestine."

A high-ranking Palestinian official, close to President Abbas, said the Palestinians see Mr Blair and Mr Bush as leaders weakened by the Iraq war, sitting out their terms in office. "Maybe these lame ducks can come together and give each other a hand," he suggested.