President's conference -  june 21 2011
Tony Blair at the Presidential Conference, June 21 2011. Photo by Emil Salman
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman said on Wednesday that despite criticisms of Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair in senior Palestinian political circles, the Palestinians would continue to work with him.

"The Palestinian presidency will continue to work with the envoy of the international Quartet Committee Tony Blair in his capacity as the choice of the Quartet," presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said in a brief statement.

It made no direct reference to calls from senior Palestinians for the replacement of Blair, whom they accused of bias in favor of Israel.

A number of figures in senior Palestinian political circles have expressed their dissatisfaction with Blair. Mohammed Ishtayeh, a member of the Central Committee of the dominant Fatah movement and a confidant of Abbas, told Voice of Palestine radio earlier on Wednesday that Blair was no longer trusted to be an impartial mediator.

Ishtayeh said the Palestinians had also written to the Quartet of mediating powers which Blair represents -- the European Union, United States, Russia and United Nations -- to say its latest proposition for a resumption of stalled peace negotiations was too vague to be meaningful.

Quartet envoys were due to meet in Brussels on Sunday.

"We do not expect much of the Quartet. There is discontent with its envoy Mr. Tony Blair," Ishtayeh said. "Our general evaluation of his efforts is that he has become of no use at all. He has developed a large bias in favour of the Israeli side and he has lost a lot of his credibility."

"We hope the Quartet will reconsider the appointment of this person," he added, in the most explicit public suggestion to date that influential Palestinians want Blair to go.

On Saturday, a senior aide to Abbas, said that former British premier and current Mideast Quartet representative Tony Blair was "useless."

"Lately, he (Blair) talks like an Israeli diplomat, selling their policies," Nabil Shaath told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "Therefore, he is useless to us."

Shaath said that while the Palestinian Authority has not yet asked the Quartet - made up of the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations - to replace him, it was obvious Blair was not favored in Palestinian circles anymore.

The Palestinian official said that while a Quartet statement issued Friday, aimed at relaunching direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, had "very few flaws," it left too much room for interpretation.

"If the Quartet statement is left to the parties' interpretation, it will take us 20 years to negotiate," he said. "There should be a referee to hold the red card when someone violates the rules," he added.

The Quartet had to be more specific, he said. "It has to say stop settlements, stop violence and accept the terms of reference," he said.

President Abbas applied for recognition of a Palestinian state and full UN membership in New York on September 23.

The 15-nation UN Security Council is headed by Lebanese Ambassador Nawaf Salam, whose country supports the Palestinian bid. But the United States has vowed to use its veto power as a permanent member to stop the Palestinian effort in the UN.

Nevertheless, nine current members of the council had already recognized Palestine and could be expected to vote in favor of the Palestinian bid, said Shaath.

The positions of Colombia and Portugal, two non-permanent members, were not yet clear even though both countries have good relations with the Palestinians, he added.

Abbas is to visit both countries in the second week of October in an effort to gain their support.

He will first visit the European Parliament, where he will make an address on October 6, after which he will travel to Central and South America, stopping in Portugal on his way back, according to Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki.