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Tony Blair, the Mideast Peacemaker that never was

Middle East
Tony Blair

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Israeli Seperation Wall. Christliches Medienmagazin under a Creative Commons Licence

Since Tony Blair’s 27 May resignation as Middle East peace envoy for the Quartet (representing the US, Russia, the EU and the UN, all claiming to advance ‘peace and prosperity’ for both Israelis and Palestinians), many are wondering why Britain’s former prime minister was considered suitable to the task of seeking peace between the occupiers and the occupied in the first place. Many critics have characterized Blair’s eight-year stint as a failure and disappointment. How could a man responsible for multiple Middle East invasions, leading to the deaths of Muslims, be expected to bring peace to the region? Following news of Blair’s resignation, it is important to reflect more generally on the inevitability of the inaction of peace envoys, as offering an explanation to the endless bloodshed and ultimate injustice pervasive in the Middle East.

Jonathan Foreman, writing for Politico, extended sympathy to Blair due to the ‘impossible’ nature of his job, arguing that much of the levelled criticism was informed by ‘ignorance of the relations of the region and the role he was supposed to play in it.’ But the ‘realities’ of a region are never separated from the role that Western powers have played in shaping them. Arguing that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are the primary driving force behind conflict – a sentiment shared by Foreman and those who similarly suggest that action taken by peace envoys is restricted by the messy nature of local Middle Eastern politics – is futile when considering that Western money and power know no limits when enabling conflict in their region to continue.

Blair’s time as envoy of the International Quartet meant representing its so-called peacemaking process. But Western powers have collectively proven that their concerns lie primarily with bolstering their own causes – which lie largely in the demonization of the East, and all that has resisted their Westernization. The term ‘Western Middle East peacemaker’ appears to be an oxymoron. It is not the task that they are faced with that is impossible so much as the expectation of those that create conflict to be able to fix it.

The Israeli-Palestinian history is one that requires much disentangling. But what is clear when studying its origins is that European powers have nothing to gain from ending a conflict that began as a result of their ideals. Zionism, the political movement responsible for advocating the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel – leading to the exile and oppression of the Palestinian people – is part of a larger Eurocentric discourse. Zionism inherits its principles from Eurocentric thought, ultimately projecting the Orientalist construction of the ‘Other’ on to the Arab, while applying the ‘Self’ to the Diasporic-Jew. The goal of Zionism has been long debated, but its aim can be summed up concisely by Professor Ella Shohat’s suggestion that it attempts to repress the Middle-Easternness of the Jews in an effort to Westernize the Israeli nation. Therefore, the Israeli-Palestinian story can quite simply be understood as an extension of Western colonialist history, with Israel rewarded by the West for adopting its oppressive ideals, and the Palestinians persecuted in order for the dichotomy, and subsequent Western supremacy, to function.

As for the US, which is also implicated in both adopting and advocating Orientalist Western ideology, it is responsible for funding Israel’s occupation of Palestine, under the false pretence of both Israel’s right to ‘self-defence’ and its own; a claim that is used to justify its ‘war on terror’. This funding has contributed not only to over 1,000 Palestinian deaths in Israel’s most recent use of excessive force in bombing the trapped population of Gaza in 2014, but more generally to the 9,131 Palestinian deaths that have occurred since September 2000, with US taxpayers giving Israel roughly $8 million per day. Both European powers, and Russia – whose President, Vladimir Putin, is notorious for his pro-Israeli stance – are also responsible for funding the onslaught.

What is clear here is that Western powers are not hindered by limitations when it comes to ensuring exile and oppression, but their peace envoys are supposedly helpless to effect change when it comes to that which their role calls for – namely peace. Blair himself fell back on the insidious argument that both Iraq and Palestine would have found themselves disrupted, regardless of his intervention, thus ridding himself of the responsibility called for in his role as ‘special’ envoy (a title he designed for himself).

When one considers the role that the West has played in shaping this conflict, one has to ask: would Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even accept suggestions made by peace envoys to bring the conflict to an end? Inheriting ideology from the West that supports occupation, as well as receiving its money to ensure it is sustained, only to be told to end it all, would be a difficult concept for Israel to stomach – its contradictory nature pointing to the near-impossibility of it actually happening.

While giving up hope of intervention may appear a bleak prospect, ensuring that we do not rely fallaciously on Middle East peacemakers, who have created more war than peace, to effect change is the very least we owe to all who have had their hopes of the recognition of a Palestinian state – still a faint prospect at the start of Blair’s appointment as envoy – crushed.

More importantly, it is crucial to emphasize that the West is not merely complicit in oppression, standing back indifferent to suffering, but rather, it actively contributes to both its very foundations and development. A mentality that rids Western powers of responsibility is a dangerous one. It poses the risk of further advocating false national narratives, contributing to historical erasure and ultimately leaving behind no hope for an informed understanding of one of the longest-lasting conflicts of our time.

Neda Tehrani is a graduate of Religion, Philosophy and Ethics from Kings College, London.

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