Blair's envoy role at risk as Palestinians reject 'Israeli bias'

Just days after being declared persona non grata at the Labour Party conference, Tony Blair looks set to receive similar treatment in the Middle East.

The Palestinians have lost trust in the former prime minister as envoy for the Quartet on the Middle East peacemakers, claiming he is biased towards Israel. Palestinian youth wings of the main political parties have informally declared Mr Blair persona non grata in the occupied West Bank and would not meet him there, a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official said. If, as expected, the youth wings make a formal declaration about Mr Blair, it is likely to be adopted by senior politicians.

The concerns expressed about Mr Blair follow an Arab newspaper report which said that Palestinian officials are pushing for the removal of Mr Blair as envoy, citing his efforts to stop the Palestinian bid for statehood submitted to the United Nations last week. Citing diplomatic sources, the Al-Quds newspaper reported that the Quartet intended to appoint a new peace envoy to the Middle East following a Palestinian request for his dismissal, according to the political blogger Guido Fawkes, who posted a translated excerpt on his website.

A PLO official would not confirm the report but said there was discontent over his stance. "Does the Palestinian Authority trust Tony Blair? The answer is no. Does anyone in the Palestinian leadership support Tony Blair? The answer is no," the PLO official said. "He is closer to an Israeli diplomat than a neutral negotiator."

Mr Blair, who has held the Quartet envoy post since 2007, has drawn Palestinian ire over a series of steps perceived as hostile to the Palestinians, including, the Palestinians say, his recent efforts to lobby European powers to drop their support for the Palestinian UN statehood bid. He also angered many with a new Quartet initiative to revive peace talks in recent days that made no mention of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a critical stumbling block to negotiations.

Some Palestinian officials have suggested Mr Blair was seeking an enhanced mandate from the Americans, opposed to the Palestinian UN bid, in his role as special envoy to the Quartet, which comprises the United Nations, the US, Russia and the European Union, following the resignation of the US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, this year. But even before recent diplomatic developments, Palestinian officials were expressing their dissatisfaction with Mr Blair's achievements, in part because he did little to censure Israel on settlements.

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