Blair will promote the peace process between Palestinians and Israel and focus on Palestinian political and economic reform. Parameters for the position were agreed upon by the so-called Quartet ahead of Wednesday’s announcement.
At the White House, Bush administration officials were quick to applaud the move.
“The president welcomes this announcement, appreciates his willingness to serve and to continue his (Blair’s) work for peace in the Middle East,” presidential Spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
Regional analysts have raised concerns over Blair’s appointment to the position because of his strong support of the Iraq war, and the perception in the Middle East that he is pro-Israel.
Fresh violence between Israeli troops and Palestinians in Gaza Wednesday highlighted the challenges Blair will face. The Palestinian divide between Hamas and Fatah was recently cemented when Hamas took control of Gaza. A Fatah government controls the West Bank.
Blair’s appointment is part of rejuvenated efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met on Monday before a summit in Egypt rallying support for Abbas and his new cabinet.
“The absolute priority is to try to give effect to what is now the consensus across the international community — that the only way of bringing stability and peace to the Middle East is a two-state solution,” Blair told the British parliament, Reuters reported.
Blair’s appointment had been anticipated, and Abbas and Olmert voiced their support even before the decision was announced. Olmert said in a statement that if Blair “accepts the position of the Quartet envoy to the region, Israel would cooperate with him to the fullest.”
Hamas leaders disagreed that Blair was the right choice.
“We expect Blair will not be a good man in this position,” said Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad, according to the Associated Press. “In the time he was prime minister of Britain, he was not honest and was not helpful in solving the conflict.”
Former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn was the last Mideast envoy for the Quartet. He resigned after less than a year in the position in 2005, following Israel’s pullout from Gaza.