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The new Middle East envoy has a limited mandate, though some already fear he'll overstep it.
Published Jul. 24, 2007

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, on Monday plunged into his new role as special envoy of the so-called quartet of Middle East peacemakers, raising many questions about what he could achieve.

He met with Jordan's foreign minister, Abdelelah al-Khatib, in Amman. He then proceeded to Jerusalem to meet with Israeli leaders, including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

He was scheduled to meet today with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank and then return to Jerusalem for a working dinner with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

His mandate from the quartet - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - is limited to helping to build Palestinian Authority institutions and to promote the development of the Palestinian economy, with the role of mediator generally reserved for the Americans.

Israeli media quoted unnamed Israeli officials expressing concern that Blair may try to take on a more political role by mediating and exerting pressure on Israel.

Mark Regev, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, dismissed the rumblings. "Obviously we will work with whatever mandate the quartet gives him," he said.

Regev added that the importance of institution building on the Palestinian side should not be underestimated. "That has often been the Achilles' heel of the process," he said, noting that Abbas' "failure to implement his election promise of imposing 'one authority, one law and one gun' in the Palestinian Authority has been a source of many of the problems."

Palestinian expectations regarding the chances of a breakthrough appeared low. "What I do with the Israelis, what the Israelis do with me, is the main ingredient," Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told the Associated Press. "The decisions required for peace are not going to come from the envoys."

Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian political analyst, said in a telephone interview that, "Appointing an envoy means nothing." What counts, he said, is the American administration's willingness to get seriously involved in peace efforts. Khatib said he sees no sign of that happening right now.