Blair Aide to Haaretz: Quartet Envoy Did Not Speak Against Palestinian UN Bid

Spokesperson for Mideast Quartet envoy tells Haaretz that Blair rejects criticism by Palestinian officials that he must be replaced since he is no longer an unbiased mediator.

A spokesperson for Quartet envoy Tony Blair told Haaretz on Sunday that he had never spoken against the Palestinian move to the UN, rejecting criticism by a top Palestinian official that Blair is not an "honest broker."

"Our focus is on activating the Quartet statement's call for a return to direct talks between the parties," Blair's spokesperson told Haaretz. "It is the job of the Quartet Representative to interact with both sides."

Tony Blair and Netanyahu - Moshe Milner - Feb 4, 2011
Moshe Milner

Blair's response came after Mohammed Ishtayeh, a close aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that Blair must be replaced as Mideast envoy, saying that discontent with Blair's conduct was pervasive throughout the Palestinian Authority leadership.

"The Palestinian leadership has raised this issue very seriously. The general consensus among the Palestinian leadership is that he is not anymore an honest broker," Ishtayeh told Al-Jazeera, adding that "the expected thing for him to do is to say 'I'm sorry, goodbye.'"

"The biggest problem that he did actually for us is that all of a sudden he started speaking against our steps going toward the United Nations," the top PA official said, adding: "You cannot be a mediator for the Quartet in which 50% of the Quartet supports our step."

According to Al Jazeera, a PA spokesman indicated that the Palestinians would not openly criticize the Quartet envoy.

However, in a statement released following Ishtayeh's remarks, a spokesperson for the former U.K. premier said that the former U.K. PM had never spoken against the Palestinian intention to approach the UN, arguing that it was a matter for the Palestinians to decide.

"Our focus is on activating the Quartet statement's call for a return to direct talks between the parties. It is the job of the Quartet Representative to interact with both sides, not least so that we can continue to deliver change on the ground for Palestinians to improve their quality of life."

Blair's statement also referred to remarks by Ishtayeh, criticizing the Quartet envoy for an inappropriate coming together of his role as peace broker and his private business ventures.

"We've seen reports by the British media which actually show explicitly that Mr. Tony Blair has very serious conflicts of interest in which he is doing business during the term of his official duties, and I think that's not a very healthy situation," the top official said. "It erodes his credibility as an envoy for the Quartet."

One recent report in the British media concerned a 2009 deal, which Blair brokered, allowing a mobile operating company, Wataniya, to provide telephone services in the Palestinian territories.

Blair played a key role in persuading Israel to free up the necessary frequency for Wataniya to launch its service — an intervention his supporters say was solely aimed at boosting the Palestinian economy.

What has drawn scrutiny is the fact that Wataniya's co-owner, the Qatari mobile phone company Qatar Telecom, was — and still is — a major client of JP Morgan, which Mr. Blair advises.

In reference to claims of Blair's alleged conflicts of interest, the spokesperson for the former British premier said that "Tony Blair has advocated for the both the Wataniya project and the Gaza gas development at the direct request of the Palestinians."

"It is his responsibility as Quartet Representative to work to build the Palestinian economy and the Wataniya project represented the single largest foreign direct investment there has been into the Palestinian Authority," the statement added, saying: "That is good news for the Palestinians."

"The fact that we have been doing so is hardly a revelation: it is listed on our website. Both were long-standing demands of the international community. In neither case was Mr. Blair even aware JPMorgan had a connection with the company. He never discussed it with them. They never raised it with him," the statement added.