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Blair's flair as referee

Bush wants the soon-to-be former prime minister as troubleshooter in the Middle East.

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When Tony Blair leaves his London office next week, will his next stop be Jerusalem? George Bush wants the long-serving British premier as international envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The idea is more than a recognition of Mr. Blair's loyalty to America; it attests to a record of reconciling the irreconcilable.

Blair leaves after 10 years of British leadership with dismal public approval at home – largely because of the Iraq war. But the war overshadows a legacy of adeptly bridging differences of all sorts.

For starters, he cajoled his leftist party, Labour, to the political center, winning three elections. He later united a detached monarchy with a British public that was grieving over Princess Diana's death. His mediating skills were in full swing when he persuaded bitter enemies in Northern Ireland to seek peace in a new government.

One of Blair's core beliefs is that conflicts can be resolved, often by building personal trust and persuading people to see the greater interest in coming together. He patiently applied these ideas to Northern Ireland, which, like the Israeli-Palestinian situation, encompassed religious and territorial disputes, inflamed by self-perpetuating, retaliatory violence.

Blair applied his "third-way" thinking to this seemingly intractable problem. He balanced use of the full force of the law against Republican terrorists with an opening of the door to them politically. And he never minimized the injustices felt by both sides.

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