Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Diplomatic circus- an unofficial account of Blair's visit to Ramallah

The diplomatic circus
(c) Anne Paq/

Ramallah, 10 Sept 2006

The big diplomatic circus…..(French will follow shortly)

I heard this week that Toni Blair was coming to Ramallah to talk with the President Abu Mazen in the Muquata. Usually I am not too keen on going to this kind of events but it has been a long time so I said to myself- why not.? Why not training myself to that kind of exercise? I was actually more interested in the demonstration that was supposed to greet Blair here. many prominent Palestinians wrote a letter to Blair saying that he was not welcomed in Palestine. There is no need to be an acute specialist in international relations to see that Blair has merely been a follower of the disastrous American foreign policy in the Middle East. Especially Blair stronly supported the Israeli war against Lebanon…

But still I decided to go…so here I was at the Muquata 1 hour before his arrival. One British guy at the entrance was trying to convince the soldiers to let him in. As a British citizen he wanted to see his Prime Minister. But in vain. I just claimed in a very strong way that I was a French photographer while opening my bags for checking and I was in. No press card was asked, which was great as I do not have one.

¨Part of the Muquata is still destroyed. Many big four wheel cars with TV written in big were parked everywhere. Some journalists were already there. And soon they all arrived with their big cameras; everybody wanted to be the first to enter to have the best spots. They are always the same people; although they were also some British journalists that were especially coming from Great-Britain to follow the Prime Minister. Some faces were familiars; the faces from BBC and CNN.

We finally entered, a dog checked our bags and cameras; then we all had to find a good spot in front of the red carpet. The TV crews were in front, the photographers were standing on chairs above them. I managed to squizz myself between a TV crew from Dubai and the BBC. The BBC screw was all worried about where to shoot and when the journalist had to speak…the guy from the Muquata that seemed to organize all this logistic came to them and tell them to move because some other important TV crews were coming (the big shots can afford themselves to come late and still manage to find a good spot). The crew screamed: “but we have to report, live to lonnnndonnnn”, insisting on the “london” part. Then the guy looked at me and at my feet saying: “well I need the space here”. Ok ok I could not really claim to report live with my not-so-impressive Digital camera. So I moved and managed to squeeze again and even to have a chair (which is quite convenient when you are lonely 1.60 tall). Another guy who must be the public relations officer of the President's Office tells us to behave and not to shout when Blair arrives...Looking at all the cameras and the red carpet I was beginning to feel like in Cannes film festival, arrh if only Blair was turning into Johnny Deep! The Palestinian soldiers arrived and took positions, Abu Mazen passed us and all took position and then Blair finally arrived. As soon as he appeared, I heard all the clicking from the cameras. There were so many clicks. The photographers do not think, do not look; they just shoot.

Blair and Abbas walked together and stopped in front of us to kindly answer to the request “hand shaking, hand shaking!”. Here we go, sure it will be the picture of tomorrow’s newspapers. Then Blair and Abbas disappeared (well a few priviledged photographers and TV crews could go in). So we all went again very fast to take position in the conference press room. I decided that I would not go at the back with all the photographers and TV crews but rather to sit with the journalists so I can got closer and actually listened. So here I am, sitting with all these journalists who looked very important. They were following the Prime Minister around and obviously had not have the opportunity to see anything that is happening here nor actually meet some Palestinians apart from the other photographers and journalists.I tried to actually looked very busy writing some great analysis on my notebook. With the guy behind me who works for media of Saudi Arabia, we began to think about questions to ask:
“So Mister Blair, why you do not want to talk to a democratically elected gouvernment?” or “how can you speak again about the road map when the road map is effectively dead (Israel policy on the ground is making the two-state solution impossible) ?”, “Did you say anything to Olmert about the Wall, which is announced to be completed by 2007 and violates international law?”. But the Palestinian public relations guy announced that there will be only four questions, two for the Palestinians and two for the British journalists! Only 4??? I could not believe it. The Press conference started and needless to say it was all about paying lip service. When asked of how much responsibility he thought Israel bore regarding solving the crisis and various illegal acts, Blair refused to blame Israel and said that he has not come "to place blame but to offer help". Blah blah blah. Abbas announced his willingness to form a new government. The second British question was asked by the guy next to me from Channel 4… I could not believe me. He asked a stupid question about the uncertainty of Blair’s political situation!!! What a shame; only two questions and one of them not on the situation in Palestine…Blair dismissed him and refused to answer...anyway time was already over. Blair and Abbas gent away…as all the photographers and journalists. rushing to the laptops to send pics and reports. Except for the British journalists that were offered lunch and a shuttle back to King David’s hotel.

Back home; I am reading the news of today. Speaking of roads; this is what is happening on Palestinian roads: A 15 years old boy was run over by a Israeli military jeep in Hebron, the jeep just run away. Near Qalqilia; an 8-years old boy was also run over by an Israeli car. But nobody is to blame. Roadmap to nowhere and diplomacy sucks.

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