Tony Blair has major role in Mideast talks


Tony Blair is playing a central but largely unheralded role in trying to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and perhaps avert a Palestinian push for full U.N. membership later this month.
As described by Western diplomats, the former prime minister’s effort in part reflects a vacuum left by the United States following the May resignation of former Senator George Mitchell as its special envoy for Middle East peace.
Blair’s specific task is to try to win agreement among the so-called Quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — on a statement that might lure both sides back into peace talks after a gap of nearly a year.
If he fails, and if the Palestinians seek full membership during the U.N. General Assembly session that begins on September 19 over Israeli and U.S. objections, the result could be a diplomatic snafu that leaves the two sides even farther apart.
Diplomats and analysts describe Blair’s challenge as Sisyphean and they question whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is genuinely interested in resuming peace negotiations for now.
Blair’s diplomacy to craft a consensus statement appears to be accelerating. In the past week he quietly met Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Paris.
He plans to return to the region this weekend and is expected in the next few days to see Netanyahu again and to sit down with Palestinian officials.

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