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After Eight Years and Few Wins, Tony Blair Steps Down as Mideast Peace Envoy

His most notable achievement as Middle East peace envoy: moving his offices out of a hotel and into a permanent location.

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It was probably too much to expect that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was going to be able to forge a peace deal between Israel and Palestine in his role as a Middle East envoy for four leading world powers. But the news Wednesday of his resignation as the representative of the so-called Quartet — the United States, Russia, the U.N., and the EU — to the peace process nonetheless puts an exclamation point on the futility of his efforts and his lack of any major accomplishments in the role.

Blair was appointed the Quartet’s envoy within hours of stepping down as prime minister in 2007, but was never able to make much headway in restarting the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process. That failure arguably transcends Blair. The role of the Quartet’s envoy is one with a highly limited portfolio that has historically been sidelined by bigger-name diplomats in world capitals. The job has instead been focused on Palestinian economic development, and in that sphere, Blair can arguably claim some success, including for example improving cell-phone access in the West Bank. Other achievements in that area frequently cited by Blair include the removal of checkpoints around Bethlehem and helping boost tourism there.

But Blair’s career as Mideast peacemaker has also been perpetually dogged by allegations of conflicts of interest stemming from his lucrative consulting career. Since leaving 10 Downing Street, Blair has made a minor fortune by providing consulting services to a vast number of unsavory, undemocratic regimes and ambitious businessmen looking for investment projects. The details of those deals have rarely been made public, though last year the Sunday Times revealed that one of Blair’s firms was paid about $60,000 a month to help a Saudi oil company develop business in China.

Such deals have led many observers to question Blair’s impartiality in administering to the Middle East peace process. Last year, for instance, Blair was working as an intermediary between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Gaza war while also providing paid advice to Sisi about hiring communications advisors.

These questions about Blair’s integrity haven’t been helped by his distinct lack of significant accomplishments in the role as the Quartet’s envoy. A critical portrait of Blair published in Vanity Fair earlier this year noted that his most visible win was moving the Quartet envoy’s offices out of a hotel and into a proper building. Beyond that, no observer — Israeli, Palestinian, or neutral — seemed able to find a single concrete accomplishment of Blair’s time in the office.

In this way, Blair’s resignation is merely the latest marker on his incredible transformation from Labour Party leader to a shill for corporate and autocratic interests. He has made millions of dollars giving advice to the leaders of Kazakhstan, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. American investment banking giant JPMorgan is a major client. These kinds of deals have made Blair a very wealthy man — but the full extent of his fortune remains shrouded behind a byzantine corporate structure. He also runs a series of charities, but it is his corporate work that supports the rest of his personal empire.

Previous British prime ministers have comfortably faded from the spotlight after leaving 10 Downing Street, but Blair, with his youth, considerable energy, and obvious ambition, was apparently not content with this state of affairs. The position was given to him by the Bush White House — reportedly over the objections of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — as a kind of consolation prize for going along with the Iraq War and ruining his career in British politics as a result.

And it was while serving as the Quartet’s envoy — before, anyway, losing all credibility in the region, in the words of one diplomat quoted by the Financial Times — that he was able to carve out a role for himself as a kind of international power broker and wheeler-dealer.

What has changed since then is not so much the prospects for Middle East peace but the business interests of Blair, for they long ago became self-sustaining.

Photo credit: Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace. @EliasGroll

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