Kerry says Tony Blair has 300 businessmen planning to raise $4 billion for the West Bank Palestinians

After the build-up that led to the Swiss-based World Economic Forum’s session at Jordan’s Dead Sea on Saturday and Sunday — it was hard to understand why, at least during the speeches of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Abbas waived a copy of the Arab Peace Initiative in the air and asked Israelis to actually read it. It was not clear why. [Later it did become clear that the reason was the incentive it gives to Israel for withdrawing from the West Bank: recognition + full normal relations including trade with the entire Arab and Muslim world.]

Peres spoke about being born in an age of agriculture and living in a world of technology, where all good things could happen to the region if only there were peace. It was not clear why. [Peres contradicted the Israeli government’s current disapproval and said the Arab Peace Initiative was a strategic opportunity…] It was not clear why.  But, his reasons seem to be the same as Abbas’.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry started to talk, and seemed to have not much new to say; he thanked a lot of people and spoke about the Arab Spring. It was not clear why.

Then, Kerry said, he wanted to give ” I want to say a special thank you to the Quartet Representative, former Prime Minister Tony Blair… he is working diligently on a special project that I want to share with you in a few minutes”…

It was all downhill from there…

US State Dept photo - Kerry greets Blair at WEF Dead Sea, Jordan meeting 26 May 2013
US State Dept photo - Kerry greets Blair at WEF Dead Sea, Jordan meeting 26 May 2013

Photo from the US State Dept “Amman and Dead Sea, Jordan” Flikr set, here.

Kerry said: “No one doubts that this is a very complex moment in international relations. But still, I don’t think that there is any secret about the conditions that are necessary for peace and stability to succeed. Those are: good governance, security, and economic opportunity. And so the real question for all of us, for President Abbas, President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, all of us, is a very simple one: Will we, despite the historic hurdles, have the courage to make the choices that we know we need to make in order to break the stalemate and provide a change of life for people in this region?”

Then, Kerry announced the creation of an investment fund to be financed with a possible $4 billion dollars to spur private-sector development in the West Bank [though he did also mention  4 million people, though it was not clear who: if Kerry meant Palestinians only, that would include the West Bank population of some 2.8 million  and Gaza with some 1.5 million…]

It was clear that Kerry’s remarks were the real reason all those people were there, in the meeting at the Dead Sea in Jordan on a Sunday afternoon…and Abbas and Peres were just there to prop up the show.

Kerry then explained the still-vague Blair super-project:
“I have asked Quartet Representative Tony Blair and many business leaders to join together. And Prime Minister Blair is shaping what I believe could be a groundbreaking plan to develop a healthy, sustainable, private-sector-led Palestinian economy that will transform the fortunes of a future Palestinian state, but also, significantly, transform the possibilities for Jordan and for Israel.

It is a plan for the Palestinian economy that is bigger, bolder and more ambitious than anything proposed since Oslo, more than 20 years ago now. And this, the intention of this plan, of all of its participants, is not to make it merely transformative, but frankly, to make it enormously powerful in the shaping of the possibilities of the future so that it is more transformative than incremental and different from anything that we have seen before.

To achieve that, these leaders have brought together a group of business experts, who have donated their time, who have come from around the world over the course of the last six weeks to make this project real and tangible and formidable – as we say, shovel-ready. They have come from all over the world because they believe in peace, and because they believe prosperity is both a promise and a product of peace.

This group includes leaders of some of the world’s largest corporations, I’m pleased to say. It includes renowned investors and some of the most brilliant business analysts out there – and some of the most committed. One of these senior business leaders actually just celebrated his 69th birthday in Jerusalem at the Colony Hotel after spending a 14-hour day in the West Bank trying to figure it out.

When others ask them, all of them, why they’re here, doing this on their own time, the unanimous answer is: ‘Because we want a better future for both Israeli children and Palestinian children’.

Their plan begins with encouraging local, regional and international business leaders to, and to encourage government leaders in various parts of the world. I raised this issue with the President of China, with the Prime Minister of Japan, with all of our European leaders, and everywhere – with the Brazilian Foreign Minister a few days ago, with the New Zealand Foreign Minister. All of them have on the tip of their tongues the idea that we can make peace in the Middle East and need to, and all of them are committed to be part of this effort in order to change life on the ground.

The fact is that we are looking to mobilize some $4 billion of investment. And this team of experts – private citizens, donating their time – are here right now. They’re analyzing the opportunities in tourism, construction, light manufacturing, building materials, energy, agriculture, and information and communications technology.

This group will make recommendations to the Palestinians. They’re not going to decide anything. The Palestinians will decide that in their normal course of governance. But they will analyze and make recommendations on a set of choices that can dramatically lift the economy.

The preliminary results already reported to me by Prime Minister Blair and by the folks working with him are stunning: These experts believe that we can increase the Palestinian GDP by as much as 50 percent over three years. Their most optimistic estimates foresee enough new jobs to cut unemployment by nearly two-thirds – to 8 percent, down from 21 percent today – and to increase the median annual wage along with it, by as much as 40 percent.

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Netanyahu makes surprising announcement proposing renewal of efforts to complete deal on Gaza gas

In a move stunning in its timing and significance, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced on Friday afternoon – with the Quartet’s Tony Blair standing by his side – that he now thinks it’s time, finally, to develop Palestinian-allocated offshore natural gas deposits buried under the eastern Mediterranean in maritime space, defined by mutual agreement under the Oslo Accords, that extends 20 nautical miles out from Gaza’s coastline.

Netanyahu did specifically mention Egypt in the announcement on Friday, saying: “Most of our [natural gas] supply today is coming from Egypt”, Netanyahu said. But, he added immediately, “It’s important for us to develop additional resources”.

The exact situation on the ground, resulting from the Egyptian-Israeli natural gas deal, is rather unclear.

The announcement – as CNN’s Jerusalem correspondent Kevin Flowers pointed out in a Tweet on Friday afternoon – came on the eve of the first meeting of the Middle East Quartet principles of 2011 on Saturday (February 5) in Germany, on the margins of the Munich Security Conference.

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Israel will not loosen naval blockade of Gaza

As we reported earlier, Israel will maintain its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip even as it accedes to international demands to ease the military-administered sanctions it imposes on the coastal territory.

Israel’s security cabinet met on Sunday, as did the full cabinet. A decision was taken to allow into Gaza (via land crossings only) all materials which are not weapons or “materials used to make weapons” (this could be a very broad list, including sugar).

But boats will not be allowed to travel directly to Gaza.

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Former Pres. Jimmy Carter in Jerusalem: "I understand the interrelationships in the Middle East as well as anybody"

It was billed as a meeting with “Israel’s human rights community”. Then, a notice was sent by email that journalists would be allowed a brief Q + A period at the end. Then, it became a “public meeting” — former President Carter’s only public appearance in Israel.

Though the stars of the Israeli human rights community were there, sitting politely in suits and dresses, President Carter in the end didn’t say anything to them, really. Unfortunately, he spoke not a word about their work, about how they are only a few, who often stand up alone against the massive tide of Israeli public and official opinion, about how they are challenge the state to live up to its national and international obligations, and how they inform the world about endless and growing problems as they continue to uphold the rights of Palestinians living under the belligerent Israeli military occupation.

Instead it became a very weak press conference.

And not one of the Israel human rights leaders there said a word.

But, from Carter himself, we learned that he was meeting Quartet Special Middle East Envoy Tony Blair in the afternoon (Blair then headed down to Gaza, for his first visit in over a year, and well after the normal Erez crossing checkpoint hours — Blair was clearly given VIP treatment). Carter announced that he was going to Gaza himself on Tuesday, for a graduation ceremony in UNRWA schools. Carter — who went to Damascus and back at the end of last week, where he met with the Hamas “Politburo” — said he’ll meet a second time with Noam Shalit, the father of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was seized and has been held captive since late June 2006, presumably somewhere in Gaza. In Gaza, he is scheduled to meet the Hamas leadership.

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On the one hand – then on the other hand

It has been reported that “U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday she had told Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Ministers Tzipi Livni, that more care must be taken to avoid incidents such as the bombing of a United Nations aid warehouse and training center in Gaza. ‘We had a discussion of the difficulties that this (the bombing of the warehouse) had caused and the need to try to avoid such incidents’, said Rice when asked whether she had protested to Israel’s government after the warehouse bombing”. This report can be viewed in full here.

Take more caretry to avoid … even for diplomats, this is not very strong language, and seems utterly disproportionate in comparison to the gravity of what happened, which may very well turn out to be a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, and a war crime.
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More on the $1.3 million lease for Tony Blair's hotel rooms in Jerusalem

He did not get the hilltop Government House, that remnant of the British Mandate in Palestine, with its rose gardens and its proximity to Bethlehem — and just as well, say outraged Palestinians, who believe the political symbolism would have been explosive.

Tony Blair then managed to get the UN Development Programme’s “Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People” to rent and renovate a block of rooms in the legendary and now five-star American Colony Hotel, one of the few places in East Jerusalem where Israeli movers and shakers are willing to go. (It used to be, and sometimes still is, the beloved haunt of visiting high-profile journalists with healthy expense budgets appropriate to the demands of a conflict zone. But it has become so expensive that Palestinians can no longer afford it — and it is now part of the “Luxury Hotels of the World” Group.)

Inner City Press’ Matthew Lee has been on the job — he had the scoop that Tony Blair would be renting office and living space for his time in “the region” for his duties as the new Quartet mediator [see UN-Truth’s pick-up of that post here]. And Matthew now reveals that (1) the U.K. chose the place; (2) that Norway and the U.K.’s development agency are supposed to contribute to the expenses [why, I wonder? Doesn’t the Quartet have a budget?]; and (3) that the UNDP obliged when asked to sign the one-year lease for the rooms at the American Colony Hotel — and apparently UNDP paid up front.

Matthew wrote on 30 October that: “To rent ten rooms in Jerusalem for Quartet envoy Tony Blair, the UN Development Program spent $1.3 million that it did not have commitments for, and signed a lease before any internal review procedure, and without considering comparable prices. The lease, a copy of which Inner City Press has obtained — first page online here, with room number[s] redacted — was dated August 27, for the signature of Roberto Valent, the Special Representative of UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis. Nine days later, when the lease was reviewed in a so-called ACP [?] meeting, numerous irregularities were found: that no comparable rates had been provided, that the UK has chosen the hotel but had UNDP sign that lease, that the even then speculative financing, from Norway and UK DFID, came to less than the $1.3 million cost of the lease. The funds used were from the Administrator’s discretionary fund … In the more than two months since the lease was signed, Tony Blair has been there only a few days. Sources say that others have used the rooms, including most notably a group of female volleyball players. Fitness appears to be a theme: other residents of the American Colony Hotel, in which Blair’s lair is on the fourth floor, have complained about the appropriation to that floor of one of the hotel’s two treadmill running machines. The lease envisions UNDP — on behalf of the so-called ‘Quartet Blair Mission’ — making alterations and improvements to the ten-room spread, including the installation of security film on the windows. (The reference here is to the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, a UN mission destroyed by a truck bomb in 2003, with most deaths caused by flying glass from filmless windows.) The lease also provides for the eventuality of the ‘total destruction’ of the hotel. As may be significant, the Quartet Blair Mission is not allowed to sublet the space. So who, informed sources want to know, gave access to the volleyball team? Developing…” Matthew Lee’s Inner City post on the $1.3 million lease signed by UNDP for Tony Blair is here.

Blair shocked by life in the West Bank

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is now the Quartet’s Special Envoy on democratization of Palestinian institutions, or something, is reported now, after a visit to the tense West Bank city of Hebron this week, to be “astonished and appalled by life in the West Bank”, according to a report by The Guardian’s Middle East editor Ian Black.

Blair can’t be shocked about what’s going on in Gaza, of course, because he’s shunning Gaza — like all of the major diplomatic players lined up behind Washington-led efforts to convene a “meeting”, if not a “peace conference” on the Middle East in late November.

In his article, Black wrote that “Large parts of the West Bank’s ‘city of the patriarchs’ were ceded to Palestinian control a decade ago when Yasser Arafat was enjoying the mixed blessings of the Oslo self-rule agreement – which left 400 hardline, armed Jewish settlers in Hebron’s ancient centre. Mr Blair, the representative of the Quartet group of Middle East peacemakers, heard a good deal about their violent provocations … ‘Mr Blair was appalled by what we told him’, said Mats Lignell, spokesman for the international observers stationed here ‘temporarily’ in 1994 after a Jewish extremist from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba massacred 29 Palestinians praying in the Ibrahimi Mosque. Wednesday’s visit provided a rare glimpse of the former prime minister as he goes about what some have called his ‘mission impossible’. It might also be described as a mission invisible – his profile so uncharacteristically low he has all but disappeared, apart from a couple of bland interviews with Palestinian and Israeli media … Despite his low profile, Mr Blair has had to learn fast since starting work in July. The outward silence shrouds a learning curve that has been steep and shocking since the envoy began work in July. ‘Blair was really astonished and angry’, says the UN official who gave him a presentation on the devastating effects of Israel’s ‘security barrier’, settlements, checkpoints, and closures on the lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories. ‘He asked very smart questions, though I did think that someone who was prime minister for so long should already have known these facts’….”
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Rice is in Jerusalem to check on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice arrived in Jerusalem Sunday after being profoundly shocked in Moscow by Russian President Putin’s anger. Will she be profoundly shocked here?

En route to Moscow three days ago, Rice was asked by journalists about her reaction to the revelation that the Israeli military had confiscated land from four Palestinian villages in order to construct a Palestinian bypass road around the enormous Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, located in the West Bank, west of Jerusalem:

“QUESTION: Israel announced this week the confiscation of Palestinian land between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim in West Bank, which appears to be a fait accompli before your arrival. What are you going to do about that?

“SECRETARY RICE: Well, I called the Ambassador to — their Ambassador to the United States yesterday and asked for a clarification. I’m awaiting one …”

UPDATE: Rice told journalists en route to Tel Aviv this morning that she did get some official Israeli clarification. Here is her exchange with journalists on the topic, according to a transcript later released by the U.S. State Department:

“QUESTION: Madame Secretary, did you get an answer from the Israelis about this confiscation of Palestinian land?

SECRETARY RICE: I did. What I’ll do is I’d prefer to have the Israelis say precisely what they — their clarification. But let me put it this way: it was a clarification concerning the timing of such a — the actual timing that anything would happen, saying that it was not imminent and also that it was to improve Palestinian mobility. We’ll continue to have discussions about this. But the point that I’ll be making is we have to be very careful as we’re trying to move toward the establishment of a Palestinian state by actions and statement that erode confidence in the parties’ commitment to a two-state solution”.

In her meeting with journalists on board her plane, Rice also said: “I think the goal now is to paint as concrete a picture as possible of the — of a Palestinian state, to demonstrate that the international community, the region and most importantly the parties themselves believe that one can indeed be established, and then to invite all who have any — who have the interests of the Palestinian people at heart to join that consensus“.
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