Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday stepped down as the international community’s Mideast envoy, leaving a post that began with great promise but which struggled to deliver dramatic changes in its quest to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Officials familiar with the work of the Quartet in the region said Blair had written a letter to United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon to confirm his resignation. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement, which came later Wednesday once the letter was received and Blair was thanked for his service.
The Quartet — which includes the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — appointed Blair to the post in 2007 with the goal of helping develop the Palestinian economy and institutions. The mission was meant to prepare the groundwork for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a peace agreement, and the addition of the high-profile Blair gave the office star power and raised hopes for progress.
When Blair first took office, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas were conducting a round of peace talks that both sides have said made significant progress. But those talks ultimately failed, and repeated attempts at reviving talks have flopped.
One official said Blair had suffered “frustration” with the limited authority of his mandate, which did not include a political role. The official also said that Blair felt his office has a strong leadership team and that now is the right time to move on.
A statement by the Quartet did not reveal why he was stepping down, but praised Blair’s “unwavering commitment” to peace.
State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Blair had worked “tirelessly and passionately.” He said he was not aware of plans to replace Blair.
Blair’s part-time position was unpaid. As he coupled the job with a lucrative private-sector career, the Palestinians often complained that he was ineffective.
“I’m happy that Tony Blair is leaving. For the entire eight years, Tony Blair didn’t make any contribution to Palestine,” said Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official. “He never proposed anything that the Israelis didn’t agree to, and the entire time he only represented himself. And he worked only to satisfy the Israelis and the Americans.”
In a statement, Netanyahu praised Blair for his “great efforts to advance stability and peace in the region.”
“Many times his understanding helped him to bridge gaps between the positions of the sides in the region, including in times of crisis,” he said. “Israel appreciates and esteems his work and his determination.”