The Sketch: A great healer who talks in double negatives

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The Independent Online

Who is Tony Blair any more? Who is he in the Middle East? Is he anyone? What answers does he have to the three big regional questions?

Those questions are: Have you got any power? Have you got any money? All right, how about rich, powerful friends, then?

He's a bit lacking in those essentials, I fear. No power, no money – and his only friend is George Bush. It's really all down to him. Blair alone. He is the catalyst, the magnetiser, the charismatic Mahatma who brings people of good faith together in a spirit of reconciliation to change the world for the better.

I was once asked to settle the bill at a restaurant and I said I didn't have any money but I had a great idea for a sitcom which they could have. That didn't work either.

Mr Blair appeared at the International Development Committee yesterday and, understandably, he looked a little worn. He's started talking in double negatives. "There isn't any reason why they cannot go ahead." And, "If there was a ceasefire, there'd be no reason not to open the crossings."

And, "The situation is uncertain but unacceptable." By the dynamics of the Middle East, a double negative doesn't produce a positive, it produces another negative. A double negative is a treble negative. It's the region's largest export after bananas.

But whatever Tony is or isn't, he isn't negative. Or do I mean he isn't not negative? I want to say he's positive. But when his positive meets their negative, it turns into a long, articulated nothing.

Thus, he told us: "If you got a process going with real progress then Hamas would be faced with a choice." Which isn't to say anything at all.

But let's be positive with him. As he puts it, "What each side says about the other is essentially true." That's a double positive. And by the regional grammar, entirely negative. Is there any real chance of peace? "We need thesituation to ease."

Granted, that would be a step in the right direction. "Until we get a period of calm, we won't get a chance for sensible dialogue." Patience, then. "We need to show what the benefits are if people have a different attitude." He's put his finger on it there. "Israel could do more to help." We'd all agree with that, or mostly agree. But then again, "Hamas is using the situation to provoke the Israeli government." And many of the rest of us would agree with that. What to do?

This is only a stage in the later career of Blair. His ultimate plan is to reconcile the great religions, and bring them together to make the world a better place. Big job. Let's hope he doesn't fall at this, the first hurdle.