Tuesday, June 26, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - A new job for Blair

International Herald Tribune Editorial - A new job for Blair
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: June 25, 2007

We have long argued for naming an authoritative, energetic and internationally known Middle East peace envoy. The Bush administration's choice for the job, Tony Blair, who steps down as British prime minister this week, has many of the right qualities - and some worrisome flaws.

Our main reservation is his dismal refusal to speak unwelcome truths to people in power - including himself - but especially to George W. 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 A. Baker. But if Blair gets the job, in which he would also represent the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, 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.

One of the most poignant aspects of the Middle East tragedy is that the broad shape of a workable two-state compromise has been known to all sides for years: boundaries based on the pre-1967 borders, a just solution for Palestinian refugees that respects Israel's identity as a Jewish state, an imaginative remapping of Jerusalem along the lines suggested by President Bill Clinton in December 2000.

Since then, this outline has gathered dust as violence has become endemic and attitudes on both sides have hardened. Yasser Arafat and Hamas deserve much of the blame, but Israel's responses to their provocations have been less than brilliant. The Bush administration's abdication of leadership allowed the situation to get much worse.

If Blair is prepared to speak these home truths to his good friend Bush and insist on more consistent and evenhanded American engagement, he could restore some of his luster and increase the chances for peace.


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