Two days ago, Blair was formally named special envoy for the Middle East in a bid backed by President Bush and his role will be to focus on narrow and technical topics rather than broader issues related to a final Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, officials said. His assignment is to increase humanitarian aid, strengthen the Palestinian economy and improve the governance of the territories.
This role will no doubt entail use of mediation skills and in my view it is probably one of the ultimate mediation roles.
The question is do I think whether Tony Blair is up to the job.
In their book on mediation, entitled "International Mediation - The Art of Business Diplomacy " Eileen Carroll & Karl Mackie identify a series of a attributes which one should look for in a mediator.
Let us look at some of the key ones and see how Tony Blair fares under the attributes listed:
Background , Status & Credibility- With a reputation as the former British Prime Minister who has enjoyed a great deal of experience on the world stage, he is eminently qualified under this heading. With the support of the Americans who will no doubt be integral for any success of Middle Eastern peace agreement, Blair does have the gravitas to get the job done. Tick.
Intellectual Rigour - Even political opponents of Blair would recognise his intelligence. Irrespective of ones views on the quality of his regime, the most successful Labour Prime Minister for winning 3 general elections is testament to that. Tick.
Integrity - Hugely controversial due to the Iraq war but it is significant that the arch Unionist, Dr Ian Paisley praised Blair at the end of Tony Blair's last appearance at Parliament yesterday. Fundamentally parties who deal with him at a negotiating level seem to respect him. Said against that, I am not sure if the new British prime minster would rate his integrity that highly. Take your pick.
Independence - An intriguing aspect to the appointment due to Iraq war and with Hamas criticising the appointment. Said against that, Israel approve and so do mainstream Palestinians which in itself is a huge achievement. Tick.
Determination -A critical attribute in the mediator. I think his record in Northern Ireland is very good on the cv and for this reason is a tick.
Overall with his success in Northern Ireland(Did you ever think you would see Sinn Fein's Mark McGuiness and Dr Ian Paisley smiling at the same table together?), he seems eminently qualified for the role.
Points of Weakness? - People may be overfamilar with him. In other words, I do not think a mediation role would work in the UK as he has polarised too many people due to the tribal nature of politics and the fact that his premiership was characterised by too much emphasis on media management. Frankly I think that he can do this role abroad but I am not sure how he would do a mediation role in the UK.
P.S 30/6/07 -Intersting article in the Telegraph today saying that Blair will have no power to mediate on peace. I suppose this calls into question my post on this being the ultimate mediation role.