Palestinian Official Reiterates Call to Replace Tony Blair as Quartet Mideast Envoy

Comments by Abbas aide come after recent PA announcement, according to which the Palestinians were willing to work with Blair despite criticism of his alleged impartiality; Blair: My focus is on activating the Quartet statement's call for a return to direct peace talks.

A top Palestinian official reiterated Sunday calls to replace Tony Blair as the Quartet's Mideast envoy, despite a recent announcement by the Palestinian Authority, according to which the Palestinians were willing to work with Blair despite criticism of his alleged impartiality.

Palestinian concerns regarding Blair's alleged lack of impartiality in his duty as Mideast envoy first surfaced earlier this month, as Nabil Shaath, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the former British premier and was "useless."

Tony Blair and Salam Fayyad - AP

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

Just days following Shaath's remarks, Mohammed Ishtayeh, a member of the Central Committee of the dominant Fatah movement and a confidant of Abbas, told Voice of Palestine radio that Blair was no longer trusted to be an impartial mediator.

Following that wave of criticism, Abbas’s spokesman indicated last week that the Palestinians would continue to work with Blair, saying: "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."

However, speaking with Al-Jazeera in an interview released on Sunday, Ishtayeh reiterated his demand to replace Blair as Mideast envoy, saying that discontent of the Quartet envoy's conduct was pervasive throughout PA 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 the Al-Jazeera, a PA spokesman indicated that the Palestinians would not openly criticize the Quartet envoy.

In response to Ishtayeh's claims, a Blair spokesperson told Haaretz 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."

Ishtayeh also referred to recent reports in British media, accusing the former U.K. premier of 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, to which Mr. 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.