Shafaq News/ Tony Blair is acting as a broker for Keir Starmer in the Middle East, helping him to build relationships with regional leaders including the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, INEWS revealed.
The former prime minister is understood to be drawing on the wide-ranging contacts he made as Middle East envoy for the “Quartet” of the US, EU, United Nations and Russia between 2007 and 2015.
Earlier this week, Starmer faced his biggest rebellion as Labour leader when 56 MPs defied the whip to vote for an SNP amendment demanding a ceasefire in Gaza. Ten frontbenchers resigned.
Sir Keir has held firm on his policy of not calling for a ceasefire, with insiders saying that with a general election a year away at most he must act as he would if he were prime minister.
Blair, Britain’s most successful Labour politician with three general election victories, has been advising Starmer on how to transition into power. i understands he is also brokering diplomatic introductions and contacts in the Middle East.
There have not been any direct conversations between Mr Netanyahu and Sir Tony, who maintains an office in Tel Aviv, but the former PM has been working to assure the Israeli government the current Labour leader is “not Jeremy Corbyn“, a source told i.
He has informed them that Israel can expect a consistent approach from the UK should Labour win the next general election, i was told.
Rishi Sunak this week also brought back former Conservative prime minister David Cameron to help on the world stage, offering him the role of Foreign Secretary.
Middle East experts from The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) could also take on temporary roles in Labour to advise on the party’s position on the Israel-Hamas conflict, i has been told.
Another source with knowledge of Blair’s talks with Starmer over the Middle East said “There’s no official role here, but the TBI does have a number of experts that are helping Labour on its policy in this area.
“As for a role for Tony in the Middle East, he has spoken to officials, but he is not involved in any formal role. His advice has been sought.”
Sir Tony remains a divisive figure because of his Middle East track record, however. He is still criticised for the Iraq War when the UK joined with the US-led invasion in 2003.
As a former Middle East peace envoy, Sir Tony has worked closely with global leaders with the aim of ending the conflict between Israel and Palestine and, in the past, has worked behind the scenes trying to encourage talks between Hamas and Israel.
During his time as the Middle East representative Sir Tony developed close contacts with political and business leaders in the Gulf states.
A TBI source stressed the organisation was non-political and would not formally second staff to political parties – adding that any employees wishing to work part-time elsewhere would have to take unpaid leave to do so.
Sir Tony and Sir Keir appear to be aligned in their calls for a political solution in Israel and Gaza in order to move towards a stable two-state solution.
In recent weeks Sir Keir has repeatedly called for a “renewal of a political process to pursue a long and lasting peaceful settlement for a two-state solution”.
A report by TBI, published in June before the Hamas attack and subsequent Israeli retaliation, warned that without a political process the “next Gaza-Israel escalation is only a matter of time”.
Starmer’s stance on backing a humanitarian pause, with a move towards a cessation in fighting, rather than joining calls for an immediate ceasefire, are informed by him treating Labour as a government-in-waiting.
Sources indicated that his position on the conflict was not attributable to advice from Sir Tony.
Israeli media reported Blair had been suggested by Prime Minister Netanyahu as a possible candidate to become “humanitarian co-ordinator” in Gaza if the situation allows.
Whilst he has not been formally offered the job it was reported that Sir Tony would be open to such a role.
At the time, his office said Sir Tony “has an office in Israel and has continued to work on issues regarding Israel and the Palestinians”.
“He is discussing the situation obviously with a number of people in the region and elsewhere to see what can be done. But there is no ‘role’ offered or taken.”