- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 1, 2005

Since the run-up to the Iraq war last year, segments of the American and British press have sought to play up differences between President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington’s closest ally, over diplomatic efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The reporting and commentary has had three major premises: 1) Any differences that actually exist should be resolved by Mr. Bush pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into making more concessions to the Palestinian Authority — even if it fails to fight terrorism; 2) If Mr. Blair agrees with Mr. Bush in supporting Israel, he must be discredited as the president’s poodle; and 3) If it is impossible to discredit Mr. Blair, he should simply be ignored.

Mr. Blair’s courageous stance on Iraq is anathema to many members of his left-of-center governing coalition, so he has tried to balance support for the war effort in Iraq with a willingness to deliver Israeli concessions to Palestinian leaders — who many British Laborites view as victims of Israeli perfidy, aided and abetted by America. Shortly after the Iraq war began, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw declared that the West has been guilty of using “double standards” at the United Nations Security Council. Mr. Straw complained that while Western countries pressed for action against Saddam Hussein, they had not shown a willingness to implement resolutions dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute (in other words, to put pressure on Israel.) Mr. Straw was simply wrong, because there is no legitimate analogy to be made between the two cases. Iraq was a rogue state that had repeatedly attacked its neighbors and violated U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that it disarm. By contrast, Security Council resolutions dealing with the Arab-Israeli dispute generally require reciprocal actions by both sides. During the Oslo peace process (1993?2000), Israel made far-reaching political and territorial concessions to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, who responded by launching a terrorist war against the Jewish state.

But erroneous as his factual premise was, Mr. Straw’s formulation was broadly consistent with Mr. Blair’s attempt to take an evenhanded approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In April of this year, Mr. Blair condemned Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, even though the Israeli tactic of killing terrorists is very similar to the actions of the allies in the current war on worldwide Islamist terror.

But following his meeting with Mr. Sharon in Jerusalem 11 days ago, Mr. Blair jettisoned moral equivalence and placed the onus on the Palestinians. “There has to be a complete and total end to terrorism” in order for peace talks to succeed, the British prime minister declared. He emphasized that the world has changed in the last few years, and people everywhere are fighting terrorism.

“In private talks, Mr. Blair was even more blunt, saying the Palestinians would get no assistance or political support from Britain unless terror stops,” the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported. He warned that Mr. Bush would not help the Palestinians if they failed to end terrorism. When there are actions, “not just declarations,” it will be possible to return to the road map for Mideast peace, Mr. Blair said.

Assuming that Mr. Blair continues to stand firm in demanding that the PA act against terror, he will complicate things for press prognosticators on both sides of the Atlantic who seem to revel in pointing out real and imagined differences between Washington and London — particularly when it comes to leaning on Israel. In all likelihood, the press will likely follow a two-pronged strategy — some will try to demonize Mr. Blair or belittle him as a lackey of Mr. Bush, while others will simply ignore the inconvenient news that the British leader seems to be adopting an approach that is close to the president’s.

Former journalist and former Clinton White House aide Sidney Blumenthal provided an example of the former in an op-ed in the British Guardian newspaper last year. Mr. Blumenthal suggested that the Bush administration, neoconservatives and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (not Palestinian terrorism aided and abetted by Mr. Arafat) were responsible for the collapse of the road map. The president, according to Mr. Blumenthal, used Mr. Blair to win political legitimacy for the Iraq war, but betrayed him when it came to delivering Israel. Flynt Leverett, an oft-quoted former Bush administration National Security Council official who resigned and became an adviser to John Kerry’s presidential campaign, told USA Today following the election: “Blair has been snookered by George Bush before on this issue, and I suspect he’ll be snookered again.”

Washington Post correspondent Glenn Kessler adopted a more innovative approach to the Blair problem in an analysis piece which ran last Monday. Mr. Kessler went on in a lengthy article explaining differences between Mr. Bush and “Europe” when it comes to Israeli-Palestinian negotations. But Mr. Kessler simply ignored Mr. Blair’s stark warning to the Palestinians during a visit to Israel five days earlier. Apparently, a more complete effort to analyze the substance of Mr. Blair’s new hard line on Palestinian terror would have gotten in the way of a good story.

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