- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2007

JERUSALEM — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair kicked off his first visit to the Middle East today as the international community’s new envoy to the region, hoping to add new momentum to fledgling peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.

The newly appointed envoy for the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia — arrived in Israel for his first visit in the new post.

During the two-day visit, Mr. Blair planned to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other top officials.

Mr. Blair arrives at a promising time. The Palestinian uprising has fizzled, and Israel says it’s ready to work with the new Palestinian leadership after seven years of stalemate.

But limits on Mr. Blair’s responsibilities — he has no authority to negotiate a peace deal — already have raised questions about his ability to forge a breakthrough, and Israeli and Palestinian officials played down expectations for the visit.

Mr. Blair touched down in Tel Aviv and traveled to the upscale King David Hotel in Jerusalem, where he was met by a horde of photographers.

Mr. Blair made no comment as he pushed through the crowd and into an elevator. He was scheduled to meet later with the Israeli foreign and defense ministers, a day before his talks with the two sides’ leaders.