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Mixed response to Tony Blair as special envoy for Middle East

Despite differences, everyone agrees the job he faces is a tough one.

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But not everyone is welcoming Blair, most significantly Hamas. The group's de facto rule of Gaza, which for the moment has split the Palestinian Authority into two different entities, is complicating any outlook for peace negotiations. Reuters reports that Hamas, who insists that Haniyeh is still the legitimate Palestinian premier, is furious over his appointment -- and that Russia has serious reservations about the US strategy.

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Hamas official Ghazi Hamad was hostile: "We do not expect Blair's role to be fair in any issue relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or any other Arab-related cause."
Moscow has also expressed misgivings about the latest U.S. and Israeli strategy of isolating Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which the Islamist group seized by force two weeks ago after routing Abbas's secular Fatah forces…
(Russian Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov criticized what he called a "divide and conquer" policy that has resulted in Hamas control of Gaza and Fatah dominance in the West Bank.

Rami Khouri, an influential columnist for Lebanon's English language The Daily Star, said he has grave reservations about Blair's fitness for the new job. His lack of popularity in the region is due to his support for the invasion of Iraq and because of perceived bias toward Israel.

My mixed feelings and those of many others in the Arab world are the result of years of watching both the Quartet and Blair speak lofty rhetoric, but fail to follow up with practical, evenhanded deeds. If there is an award for the combined negative credibility of an institution and an individual, the Quartet and Blair should be its first recipients.
(Blair's) main problem is not only that he has been hypocritical or partial to Israel and the United States rather than truly even-handed; it is also that his policies have contributed directly and abundantly to the Arab-Israeli conflict and associated tensions in the Middle East… Appointing Tony Blair as special envoy for Arab-Israeli peace is like appointing the Emperor Nero to be the chief fireman of Rome.

The New York Times in a Monday editorial said it would have preferred another choice, but added the job would be an opportunity for Blair to redeem himself for what the paper called past mistakes.

Our main reservation is (Blair's) dismal refusal to speak unwelcome truths to people in power -- including himself -- but especially to George Bush, who will have to be willing to take his own political risks and set aside his prejudices if there is to be any realistic short-term prospect for Mideast peace.
There were bolder possible choices -- think Bill Clinton or James Baker. But if Mr. Blair gets the job … he will get a chance to redeem a legacy badly tarnished by Iraq and to show that he means to be nobody's poodle.
His belief in the urgency of a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians is clear. He knows the region, and many of the leaders with whom he'll need to work. And he is supremely capable of articulating a vision of a better future if those leaders lift themselves above the tit-for-tat cycle of crises.

Whatever Mr. Blair's qualifications for the job, there is almost no one who thinks his job will be easy. Many are guessing that he will come to regard his role in bringing Protestants and Roman Catholics together in Northern Ireland as relatively easy by contrast, as a cartoon in Wednesday's International Herald Tribune points out.

A reminder of the difficulties came on Wednesday with an Israeli attack on Gaza killing 12 people, mostly militants but some civilians, including a 12-year-old boy, reports Reuters.

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