I suppose that astonishment is not the word for it. Stupefaction comes to mind. I simply could not believe my ears in Beirut when a phone call told me that Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara was going to create "Palestine". I checked the date–no, it was not 1 April–but I remain overwhelmed that this vain, deceitful man, this proven liar, a trumped-up lawyer who has the blood of thousands of Arab men, women and children on his hands is really contemplating being "our" Middle East envoy.
Can this really be true? I had always assumed that Balfour, Sykes and Picot were the epitome of Middle Eastern hubris. But Blair? That this ex-prime minister, this man who took his country into the sands of Iraq, should actually believe that he has a role in the region–he whose own preposterous envoy, Lord Levy, made so many secret trips there to absolutely no avail–is now going to sully his hands (and, I fear, our lives) in the world’s last colonial war is simply overwhelming.
Of course, he’ll be in touch with Mahmoud Abbas, will try to marginalise Hamas, will talk endlessly about "moderates"; and we’ll have to listen to him pontificating about morality, how he’s absolutely and completely confident that he’s doing the right thing (and this, remember, is the same man who postponed a ceasefire in Lebanon last year in order to share George Bush’s ridiculous hope of an Israeli victory over Hizbollah) in bringing peace to the Middle East…
Not once–ever–has he apologised. Not once has he said he was sorry for what he did in our name. Yet Lord Blair actually believes–in what must be a record act of self-indulgence for a man who cooked up the fake evidence of Iraq’s "weapons of mass destruction"–that he can do good in the Middle East.
For here is a man who is totally discredited in the region–a politician who has signally failed in everything he ever tried to do in the Middle East–now believing that he is the right man to lead the Quartet to patch up "Palestine".
In the hunt for quislings to do our bidding–ie accept even less of Mandate Palestine than Arafat would stomach–I suppose Blair has his uses. His unique blend of ruthlessness and dishonesty will no doubt go down quite well with our local Arab dictators.
And I have a suspicion–always assuming this extraordinary story is not untrue–that Blair will be able to tour around Damascus, even Tehran, in his hunt for "peace", thus paving the way for an American exit strategy in Iraq. But "Palestine"?
The Palestinians held elections–real, copper-bottomed ones, the democratic variety–and Hamas won. But Blair will presumably not be able to talk to Hamas. He’ll need to talk only to Abbas’s flunkies, to negotiate with an administration described so accurately this week by my old colleague Rami Khoury as a "government of the imagination".
The Americans are talking–and here I am quoting the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack–about an envoy who can work "with the Palestinians in the Palestinian system" to develop institutions for a "well-governed state". Oh yes, I can see how that would appeal to Lord Blair. He likes well-governed states, lots of "terror laws", plenty of security–though I’m still a bit puzzled about what the "Palestinian system" is meant to be.
It was James Wolfensohn who was originally "our" Middle East envoy, a former World Bank president who left in frustration because he could neither reconstruct Gaza nor work with a "peace process" that was being eroded with every new Jewish settlement and every Qassam rocket fired into Israel. Does Blair think he can do better? What honeyed words will we hear?
I bet he doesn’t mention the Israeli wall which is taking so much extra land from the Palestinians. It will be a "security barrier" or a "fence" (like the famous Berlin "fence" which was actually called a "security barrier" by those generous East German Vopo cops of the time).
There will be appeals for restraint "on all sides", endless calls for "moderation", none at all for justice (which is all the people of the Middle East have been pleading for over the past 100 years).
And Israel likes Lord Blair. Indeed, Blair’s slippery use of language is likely to appeal to Ehud Olmert, whose government continues to take Arab land for Jews and Jews only as he waits to discover a Palestinian with whom he can "negotiate", Mahmoud Abbas now having the prestige of a rabbit after his forces were crushed in Gaza.
Which of "Palestine"’s two prime ministers will Blair talk to? Why, the one with a collar and tie, of course, who works for Mr Abbas, who will demand more "security", tougher laws, less democracy.
I have never been able to figure out why the Middle East draws the Balfours and the Sykeses and the Blairs into its maw. Once, our favourite trouble-shooter was James Baker–who worked for George W’s father until the Israelis got tired of him–and before that we had a whole list of UN Secretary Generals who visited the region, frowned and warned of serious consequences if peace did not soon come.
I recall another man with Blair’s pomposity, a certain Kurt Waldheim, who–no longer the UN’s boss–actually believed he could be an "envoy" for peace in the Middle East, despite his little wartime career as an intelligence officer for the Wehrmacht’s Army Group "E".
His visits–especially to the late King Hussein–came to nothing, of course. But Waldheim’s ability to draw a curtain over his wartime past does have one thing in common with Blair. For Waldheim steadfastly, pointedly, repeatedly, refused to acknowledge–ever–that he had ever done anything wrong. Now who does that remind you of?
ROBERT FISK is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s collection, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Fisk’s new book is The Conquest of the Middle East.