Palestinians 'Will Continue to Work with Blair'


Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas will continue to work with Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair, his spokesman said on Wednesday, despite criticism of his stance as "pro-Israeli."

"The Palestinian presidency will continue to work with him given he is the choice of the Quartet," Nabil Abu Rudeina told Agence France Presse by telephone from Strasbourg where Abbas is currently attending a session of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe.

The Palestinians have made clear they are not happy with Blair's performance as Quartet envoy, accusing him of having a clear bias in Israel's favor.

"Sometimes he talks like an Israeli diplomat," Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath told journalists at the weekend, charging that Blair's "major worry is not to anger the Israelis."

Shaath said Blair had ended up "just selling their programs, their projects," meaning his usefulness for the Palestinians was "extremely limited."

Abbas on Wednesday held a brief meeting in Strasbourg with EU chief Catherine Ashton, who will on Sunday meet in Brussels with other principals of the diplomatic Quartet, which groups the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States.

Ahead of the meeting, Abu Rudeina urged the Quartet and Blair "to do all they can to force the Israeli government to accept the latest Quartet statement, not only in word but in deed, by stopping settlement activity, including in east Jerusalem."

He was referring to a loosely worded Quartet statement from September 23 proposing that Israel and the Palestinians resume direct peace talks within a month and make a commitment to finding a deal by the end of 2012.

Both sides have differing interpretations of the proposal.

Israel on Sunday accepted the plan with reservations, while the Palestinians say there will be no negotiations until Israel freezes settlement -- a demand they say is written into the Quartet proposal.

The Quartet statement was issued just hours after the Palestinians submitted a controversial request for full UN membership, despite strong opposition from Israel and the United States.

The proposal is aimed at heading off a diplomatic showdown over the membership bid, which is set to be put to a vote in the U.N. Security Council in the coming weeks.

Washington has vowed to veto the request in a move many fear could spark a backlash in the Middle East.