Revealed: Tony Blair’s lobbying for Palestinian telecoms deal

Declassified letter from Quartet’s envoy shows how ex-prime minister prioritised project

By David Hencke | 16 March 2015

Revealed: Tony Blair’s lobbying for Palestinian telecoms deal
Super-lobbyist: Tony Blair with Hillary Clinton in the US State Department in 2009

Revealed: Tony Blair’s lobbying for Palestinian telecoms dealTony Blair prioritised a lucrative telecommunications contract as part of his role as Middle East envoy, a declassified confidential letter reveals.

The deal for a mobile-telephone network for the Palestinian market was sought by Qtel, a company mostly owned by Qatar and a client of JP Morgan, the bank where Blair is an advisor reportedly on £2 million a year.

But the former British prime minister, who is under pressure to quit as the Quartet’s envoy, says that he did not know about JP Morgan’s link to the Palestinian contract.

The declassified letter – published in full by Exaro today and obtained for a new book, ‘Blair Inc’, due out on Thursday – shows how Blair regarded the project as one of the two most important “key issues” in trying to forge a two-state solution for the Palestinians and Israelis.

In the letter to Hillary Clinton, then US secretary of state, and other leading figures of the Quartet, he wrote: “Two flagship projects head the list.” One was “‘Wataniya’, the proposed second mobile-telephony operator for the Palestinian market,” he said.

Blair described it as “a major project, which, if successful, would entail the largest investment in the Palestinian economy to date.

“Conversely, its failure would send entirely the wrong signal about the prospects for the transformative change agenda, and would deter sustained investment in the Palestinian territories.”

The confidential letter was declassified and disclosed under the US Freedom of Information Act.

Written by Blair as representative of the Quartet, it was also sent to:

  • Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations;
  • Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister;
  • Carl Bildt, then Sweden’s foreign minister;
  • Benita Ferrero-Waldner, then European Union’s commissioner for external relations;
  • Javier Solana, then the EU’s high representative for common foreign and security policy.

The Quartet is made up of America, Russia, the UN and the EU. It seeks to help peace negotiations in the Middle East and “to support Palestinian economic development and institution-building in preparation for eventual statehood.”

Blair is not paid as the Quartet’s representative.

In his letter, of September 2009, he wrote: “The GoI [government of Israel] has yet to allocate the necessary 4.8MHz bandwidth needed for Wataniya to launch successfully.

“I have recently received an assurance from Minister Barak that the necessary bandwidth will be allocated, and I hope that we can resolve this on that basis.” Ehud Barak was then Israel’s deputy prime minister and defence minister, and its former prime minister.

Blair, according to his spokesman at the Quartet, raised the issue of Wataniya with the Israelis as Middle East envoy at the Palestinian Authority’s request.

In a statement, the spokesman said: “He has no knowledge of any connection between Qtel and JP Morgan, and has never discussed the issue with JP Morgan, nor have they ever raised it with him.

“Notwithstanding Mr Blair’s lobbying of the government of Israel for this deal, the release of over half of the 1 MHz cellular-telephone operating frequency initially promised to Wataniya by the government of Israel took over a year to be effected.

“It was not until February 2011 that the outstanding 0.6 MHz was transferred, which completed the transfer of a total of 1 MHz pending since November 2009.”

Wataniya Mobile’s then chief executive, Bassam Hannoun, is on record as saying: “I would say his prime contribution to Wataniya was negotiating the release of the frequencies. That was a milestone, obviously.”

“In November 2009, we were nothing… And since then, we have done fantastically well. We have captured 23 per cent of the market.”

Qtel is a long-standing client of JP Morgan. The global bank, based in New York, received a set-up fee for helping to arrange a loan facility of $2.5 billion for Wataniya in 2007. And it receives interest payments as a member of banking syndicates that financed Qtel with billions of dollars.

Qtel, since renamed Ooredoo, is 52 per cent owned by the state of Qatar, while Qatari government-related entities own 17 per cent, and Abu Dhabi Investment Authority has 10 per cent.

Ooredoo owns nearly half of Wataniya Mobile Palestine, while the Palestine Investment Fund has just over a third.

Read Blair’s full letter to Hillary Clinton and other global leaders.

Additional research by Alex Varley-Winter. ‘Blair Inc: The Man Behind the Mask’ by Francis Beckett, David Hencke and Nick Kochan. Published on March 19 by John Blake Publishing, £20.

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