Could Tony Blair Really Bring Peace to the Middle East?

Prime Minister Tony Blair will undoubtedly receive the royal treatment from both Palestinians and Israelis when he arrives in the Middle East as the new envoy for peace.

Blair will join a long list of envoys that set out to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. But will he be the last? And is he the man to succeed?

Very few people here in Israel or the Palestinian territories are paying any attention to the expected announcement of Blair's new role. Palestinians and Israelis have seen dozens of envoys come and go with little result. There is a feeling in the region that Blair will not be much different from the rest.

The first problem for Blair is credibility among the Arab world and specifically the Palestinians. Just before his government agreed to join the "coalition of the willing" and invade Iraq, Blair promised a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Yet, there have been no meaningful peace talks, no significant concessions from either Palestinians or Israelis, and the British government, like much of the international community, quickly became focused on the war in Iraq.

"In the streets," said analyst Arnon Regular from Roadmap Risk Assessment, "[Blair] will be in a difficult position."

Regular points out that most Middle East envoys have failed at the job because the day to day is not as advertised. The envoys have to work on small details, not just broad and sweeping diplomatic plans. For instance, it might mean forcing the Israelis to improve sewage and garbage collection in East Jerusalem for the Palestinians as a way of building trust.

Another challenge for Blair will be dealing with the Islamic movement of Hamas, now isolated by the international community since it took power in Palestinian parliamentary elections last year and further maligned since Hamas militants took the Gaza Strip by force last week. Will Blair have direct relations with Hamas? If so, how will the Americans and Israelis react?

Blair's government joined the long list of countries that refused to recognize Hamas as a legitimate government after last January's Palestinian elections. That angered many Palestinians who felt betrayed after they were encouraged to participate in the vote only to have Western countries refuse to recognize the results.

The biggest challenge for Blair may be having to deal with all the players in the region trying to find a solution. Blair will have to provide shuttle diplomacy between the Americans, Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis, Hamas, the Palestinians and Israelis to get them all to agree or to even negotiate.

"It goes back to the goodwill between the Israelis and the American administration," said Regular, "which has not been so keen in the last few months to intervene in what is going on."

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