The Blair Option in Palestine

The release of an abducted BBC journalist in Gaza is being seen by some as an attempt by Hamas (which denies any part in the kidnapping) to curry favor with Tony Blair, who on stepping down as Britain’s prime minister was appointed international envoy to Israel and Palestine. Blair has the thankless task of helping the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas build institutions for a viable state, following Hamas’ military takeover of Gaza.

Given the stakes, this is a task worth doing despite the high risk of failure. But unless Blair gets a lot of unexpected support, failure is what will happen.

Four basic facts govern Blair’s role:

  • No peace is possible unless the Palestinian government becomes master in its own house;
  • Nothing is possible if Gaza remains a virtual charnel house;
  • Abbas cannot succeed and Hamas cannot be politically weakened unless there is massive external economic assistance;
  • It is imperative to limit the damage caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to everything else that has to be done in the Middle East.

Blair isn’t the first statesman to try helping the Palestinians. James D. Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank, tried earlier in Bush’s term. Wolfensohn made some progress, but it was not enough, especially when the United States, Israel, and the European Union chose to starve the Palestinians financially after Hamas won its unexpected victory in the January 2006 Palestinian elections. Wolfensohn quit in frustration.