Martin Indyk, the new U.S. peace process envoy, speaking at the Aspen Institute in March 2009. (Photo: The Aspen Institute/Flickr)
Martin Indyk’s selection by Secretary of State John Kerry as the Special Envoy for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority summoned memories of an appearance I witnessed at J Street’s first annual convention in Washington DC in 2009. I remembered stumbling into a huge auditorium to hear Indyk describe how he made “aliyah to Washington” during the 1980’s to ensure that US policy remained slanted in Israel’s favor, and go on to blame Yasser Arafat for the failure of Camp David.
I searched out the video of Indyk’s J Street appearance and confirmed my memories. In a candid address, speaking without notes, Indyk told his audience how as a young man studying in Jerusalem, he wound up volunteering to assist Israel during the 1973 war. He witnessed Israel pushed to the brink by a coordinated Egyptian-Syrian attack designed to recover the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. Nixon and Kissinger’s generous emergency shipment of arms, which enabled Israel to push back the Arab armies, clarified for Indyk the role America should play in the Middle East. It was then that he decided on a career as an inside-the-Beltway operator.
“And that is why I chose to make aliyah to Washington,” Indyk half-jokingly declared.
Here are excerpts of Indyk’s remarks. He began by stating that the only way to guarantee “Israel’s security and well-being” was to work for peace:
I came to that conclusion 35 years ago when I was a student in Jerusalem and the Yom Kippur war broke out, I worked as a volunteer there in those terrible days when Israel’s survival seemed to hang in the balance and I witnessed the misery of war and the critical role that the United States in the form of Henry Kissinger played through activist diplomacy in forging a peace out of that horrendous war.
It was from that point on — as some of you would know I was an Australian in those days — that I became convinced that the US role in helping Israel to achieve peace was absolutely critical and remains today the sine qua non, without which nothing else in the end will become possible. And that is why I chose to make aliyah to Washington [laughter from crowd], and to work to try to understand and work on us diplomacy towards resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Indyk’s “aliyah” came in the form of a position at the Israel lobby group AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) as a deputy researcher in 1982. Three years later, he and Dennis Ross founded the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), an AIPAC-linked think tank. Ross’s first paper for WINEP, which he published in 1985, demanded the appointment of “a non-Arabist Special Middle East envoy” who would not “feel guilty about our relationship with Israel and our reluctance to force Israeli consensus.”
At the personal recommendation of the Israeli-American media tycoon Haim Saban, who raised $3.5 million for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, and later paid for the construction of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, Clinton appointed Indyk as US Ambassador to Israel. Ross joined the administration as Special Envoy to the Middle East, precisely the position he had dreamed up in his WINEP position paper. Almost two decades later, Indyk has returned to public life in Ross’s former role.
At J Street, Indyk described Yitzhak Rabin and Clinton’s approach to the peace process as his template for negotiations. He recalled Rabin declaring, “What we need is separation, your people and my people, we need separation, not out of hatred but out of respect.” Indyk explained, “That was Yitzhak Rabin’s vision and his purpose in trying to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians… The challenge of Americans is to return to that process.”
Beyond the absurd logic that defines forced ethnic separation as “respectful,” Rabin was in fact a hard separationist who promised Israelis he would “take Gaza out of Tel Aviv.” After agreeing to the Oslo Accords, Rabin ordered the mass revocation of Palestinian work permits inside Israel, trapping hundreds of thousands inside cities and villages. He inaugurated plans for a barrier separating “Israel proper” from the West Bank, laying the groundwork for the separation wall constructed under the watch of Ariel Sharon, and he presided over the installation of the first sections of fencing around the Gaza Strip. Though few of Rabin’s hagiographers will admit it, his policies of hard separation set the stage for the Second Intifada, driving occupied Palestinians deeper into economic misery and ghettoization.
Speaking before J Street, Indyk placed the blame for the bloodshed of the Second Intifada squarely on Yasser Arafat’s shoulders. He derided the late PA chairman as having “that big shit-eating grin of his” and assailed him for refusing to accept the Clinton Parameters, omitting the fact that Arafat ultimately accepted them with grave reservations and questions:
I remember Shimon Peres saying to me at the time when Arafat had to decide whether to accept the Clinton Parameters, he said, history is a horse that gallops past your window and the true act of a statesman is to jump from the window on to a galloping horse. But of course Arafat let the galloping horse pass by leaving the Israelis and Palestinians mired in misery.
Indyk is back at the center of heavily ballyhooed negotiations that seem doomed from the start. Is he preparing to blame the Palestinians again?