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Shimon Peres
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Special Report from Jerusalem: What was missing from Tony Blair's address at the Israeli President's Conference ?

Has he already begun thinking about his next job?

Rhonda Spivak, June 23, 2012

Former British Prime Minister and current Middle East Quartet Representative Tony Blair came off as a likeable guy with a sunny disposition in a speech that he delivered at the Gala Evening Plenary: "The Compass for Navigating Tomorrow" on the first of the 4th annual Israeli Presidential Conference. In fact, based on his well delivered speech and his photogenic smile, I can see why he why he would win elections.

But, in my view, if one looks beyond what Blair said, and focuses on what he didn't say, it is clear that he does not expect any progress at all in the moribund peace process, and is even having a hard time faking it.

Blair, who noted that his speech was being delivered alongside those of 89 year old Shimon Peres and 89 year old Henry Kissinger made remarks to the effect that it was good to feel that he was the youngster in the line-up.

He then had the audience of approximately 5000 people chuckling when he paid tribute to Israeli President Shimon Peres, saying: "He was there when I got into office. He was there when I left. And he’s still here now. In fact, I think he was a Minister before I was born " (is it possible that Peres may still be President even after Blair leaves his position as Quartet Envoy?)

Blair said that "a lasting peace" with "a secure "State of Israel and a "viable' State of Palestine is in Israel's interest." He said, "Israel alone can’t deliver it. But Israel should always strive for it," adding that Israel which combines innovation and an open mind "is not a threat to the region, it’s a model for it."

But after delivering these platitudes about the two state solution, what was missing from Blair's speech, of course, was actual details suggesting a time frame for the re-starting of any peace negotiations, something one could naturally expect form a Quartet envoy (alas, Blair has probably realized that he has given so many time frames already that have never been met that there is no point even bothering anymore).

More to the point, Blair didn't actually mention the name of PA President Mahmoud Abbas in his speech. Interesting, isn't it? There was no line in Blair's speech to the effect that he believes Abbas is a genuine partner, or that there will never be a better leader for Israel to deal with than Abbas, or that there will never be a better time to make peace than now.

In that regard, Blair's remarks were less specific than Peres's own remarks. Peres said that he’s been meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other officials several times in recent months (a rarity given that talks are frozen)."They like us, want peace," Peres said. "I believe that it is possible to renew the negotiations with the current Palestinian leadership."

Notwithstanding Peres said that, Blair was much more vague. All Blair said that his job was "still quite challenging " (smiling as he said this) but that despite everything "I am actually optimistic about tomorrow." That's about as vague as one can get, isn't it?

Note that the Times of Israel reported on Peres's remarks about believing it's possible to renew negotiations with the current Palestinian leadership, but then also added, "There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials."

In his remarks at the Presidents conference Blair also spoke about the upheaval in the Middle East, suggesting in my view that he was concerned about the strengthening of the Moslem Brotherhood and Islamic forces in Egypt, a fact that will make his job more not less difficult.

As Blair said: “We (the international community, led by the Quartet) have no option but to stay engaged in this part of the world. Democracy is not just a way of voting. It’s a way of thinking. It’s about freedom of expression, freedom of the media and freedom of religion

On the whole, after hearing Blair's speech I couldn't help thinking that Blair's getting a little tired of his job--his heart isn't really in it anymore.

I thought that before I began googling Blair's name to see what turns up about him recently.

Interestingly enough, Blair has hinted that at some point in the future (not "at the moment") he would like to be President of the European Union.

The Telegraph reported only two days before I heard Blair speak in Jerusalem that he had " left open the option of becoming EU President when he told BBC Radio that he did not want a major job in the EU "at the moment". Asked on BBC Radio Four’s World at One if he had would like to be the elected president of the EU, Blair said: "I think that’s a way, way down the line".
But he added: "When the European presidency came up last time I would have taken it if the job had been offered, but I’ve no thought of stepping back into politics, European politics, at this moment."

 I wonder what "at this moment' means exactly?

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.