Muslim Groups Blast Blair's Legacy as Middle East Envoy

Blair in Gaza
Quartet Representative to the Middle East and former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair (R), meets Palestinian Minster of Justice, Saleem Saqqa, in Gaza City, February 15, 2015. Suhaib Salem/Reuters

Tony Blair has achieved nothing during his eight years as Middle East peace envoy and should not be offered further roles in the region, according to some British Muslim groups.

Massoud Shadjareh, chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), an independent group based in London who controversially awarded the staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine an 'Islamophobe of the year' award earlier this month, says that the former UK prime minister was never suitable for the job and argues that he displayed pro-Israeli tendencies. The Muslim Association of Britain, who have expressed support for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood also condemned Blair's work in the role, while the more moderate Muslim Council of Britain declined to comment.

The claims come amidst increasing speculation over Blair's role as representative for the Quartet, a diplomatic group consisting of the U.S., EU, UN and Russia. Blair's mandate as representative is to promote economic growth and job creation in Palestine as part of broader negotiations towards a peace settlement.

The Financial Times reported that Blair met with U.S. secretary of state John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini this weekend to discuss a potential reconfiguring of his role.

"Eight years is a long time for doing nothing," says Shadjareh. "His appointment was seen as very negative by all the Palestinians and pro-Palestinian institutions. His involvement over the issue of the Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has always been very, very pro-Israeli."

"His brief was to highlight and support the economy of the Palestinians and very little has been done when you look at Gaza and the suffering there and the lack of any economical building."

Shadjareh says Blair has also failed to speak out against what Israeli settlements being built in the West Bank, the separation wall still under construction and Israel's role in the conflict with Gaza in 2014. The UN reported that 2,205 Palestinian died in the Israel-Gaza conflict last summer and more than half a million were displaced, while 71 Israelis also died.

Blair sent British forces to Iraq in 2003 alongside the U.S. army to topple then-leader Saddam Hussein. The UK's role in the invasion is currently being investigated Sir John Chilcot, with members of the House of Lords speculating that Blair could be charged for war crimes.

Dr Omer El-Hamdoon, president of the Muslim Association of Britain, an outspoken UK-wide Muslim advocacy group who vigourously opposed the Iraq War, says that the invasion contributed to the current instability in the region, including the rise of the Islamic State.

"During Saddam's time there were no terrorists in Iraq. It was stable, there were no people blowing themselves up," says El-Hamdoon. "After the Iraq war, it has been one big sham for the U.S. and the UK because they've introduced instability into the region."

"The very fact that cold-blooded people like ISIS are ruling Iraq shows how the problems have increased and the issues have got out of control and that all goes back to that one incident where Iraq was invaded."

El-Hamdoon believes Blair's impact on the peace process in Palestine has been negligible and that he should not be offered future roles in the region.

"I don't think he should be given any other roles. He doesn't have a good track record and some of his recent comments about Muslims and Islam shows he is not the best person to take peace forward."

Blair has faced criticism recently from members of his former inner circle for his policy on the Middle East. The Telegraph reported that John Prescott, who was Blair's deputy during his 10 years as prime minister, compared the Iraq invasion to the Crusades and implied that such interventions contributed to the radicalisation of young Muslims.

Last June, Blair faced calls to stand down from his Middle East role in a public letter whose signatories included Sir Richard Dalton, who was the British ambassador to Iran between 2003 and 2006. The letter accused Blair of trying to absolve himself of responsibility for the current crisis in Iraq and said his achievements in the Quartet role had been negligible. Blair's office rejected the letter as lacking credibility.

Alongside the Quartet, the EU appointed Italian Fernando Gentilini as its new Middle East representative yesterday, a role which has been vacant for more than a year. The move is apparently unrelated to the speculation surrounding Blair's role.

However, Gentilini's appointment was overseen by Mogherini, who was questioned about speculation surrounding Blair's role. She said foreign ministers had not discussed Blair's role but were focused on how to revive the Quartet's work in the Middle East. "We discussed the future of the Quartet initiative. Blair's responsibility is to focus on economic development [of the Palestinian territories] and that is not the focus at the moment which is on relaunching the peace process," she said.

The office of the Quartet representative declined to comment on the speculation surrounding Blair's role but quoted Quartet sources as saying that there has been no effort to push Blair out of his current role and that his contribution to the peace process has been valuable.