Last Updated: Wed Sep 28, 2011 10:15 am (KSA) 07:15 am (GMT)

Eman el-Shenawi: Blair perfects his salesmanship

It’s time for Mr. Blair to decide between work and play, and keep the two apart or choose one over the other. (Photo by Reuters)
It’s time for Mr. Blair to decide between work and play, and keep the two apart or choose one over the other. (Photo by Reuters)

In recent big-buck stories accusing Tony Blair, a Middle East peace envoy, of pushing for two large business deals in Palestine for the ultimate financial gains of an investment bank that employs him, political backdrops are yet again flooded with irony.

A peace envoy instigating anything but peace through these money-spinning allegations, in a region he has initially been tasked with fostering harmony for. Alas, let me remind you that Middle East harmony should come on all fronts, with financial situations carrying as much weight as the political.

The former British prime minister is accused of pushing forward multimillion pound contracts in Palestine with British and mobile phone firm Wataniya. They are both major clients of JP Morgan, the U.S. investment bank that employs Blair as a senior adviser, paying him $3.1million a year, the Daily Mail reports.

Blair allegedly helped rescue Wataniya by encouraging an agreement with the Israeli government to open radio frequencies so mobile phone company Wataniya could operate in the West Bank.

His spokespeople say that Blair advocated for the Wataniya project “at the direct request of the Palestinians.”

“It is his responsibility as Quartet representative to work to build the Palestinian economy and the Wataniya project represented the single largest foreign direct investment there has been into the Palestinian authority,” a spokesman for Blair told the Guardian newspaper.

But judging by his latest stance on the Palestinian statehood bid, (which he practically shrugged off, arguing that even if Palestinians win unilateral statehood, on-the-ground conditions would not change much anyway and began plugging the Israeli call for direct negotiations instead) many would doubt that the reasons behind Blair’s interference in the Wataniya project would be solely for a Palestinian economic cause. Was there something else?

Indeed, Wataniya was funded by a $2 billion loan that JP Morgan arranged. Though Blair’s spokesman said that the former PM had no prior knowledge that JP Morgan had a connection with Wataniya, anti-corruption campaign group Global witness hinted that Blair was far from the Good Samaritan peace envoy.

“There seems to be growing evidence that Tony Blair’s business activities across the Middle East may be in conflict with his peace envoy role,” Robert Palmer, a spokesman for Global Witness told the Guardian. “It is time he came clean about all of his interests in the region and who they are benefitting.”

This was not the only case that aroused suspicions Blair had been mixing work and play. Undercover reports also found that Blair had interfered similarly in a JP Morgan-etched deal with British Gas off the coast of Gaza. Meanwhile, bustling reports about Blair in 2009 frequently visiting the now-fallen Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in order to lobby for JP Morgan, which sought multimillion-pound banking deals with Qaddafi and his son Saif have also arose, a senior executive in the Libyan Investment Authority told the Telegraph.

But flash the light in Blair’s eyes, and he probably wouldn’t blink; he’ll batter his eyelids, opening his mouth to stutter a few ifs and buts, before a question is even asked of him. Mr. Blair has already been widely criticized for muddling official duties with lucrative opportunities, particularly for his private consulting firm, Tony Blair Associates. He also has been described in light of recent revelations as a “JP Morgan salesman.”

Truth be told, even if these allegations are wholly verified, Mr. Blair is not actually doing anything wrong. In his role as Middle East peace envoy, the Quartet – U.S., U.N., EU and Russia – does not have a code of conduct that would prevent Blair from such behavior.

But the ethical arguments are there and have been widely discussed. Observers have accused Blair of “making up his own rules at the Quartet,” as mentioned in a British documentary on Tony Blair that aired recently.

Perhaps it’s time for Mr. Blair to decide between work and play; keep the two apart or choose one over the other.

(Eman El-Shenawi, a writer at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: eman.elshenawi@mbc.net.)

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