Who is to blame for the breakdown of the peace talks? Last week US State Department envoy Martin Indyk did the unpardonable, and called out Israel’s settlement program for the failure: “rampant settlement activity – especially in the midst of negotiations – doesn’t just undermine Palestinian trust in the purpose of the negotiations; it can undermine Israel’s Jewish future.”
Now pro-Israel voices are trying to massage Indyk’s statements away, by faulting Indyk, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Secretary of State John Kerry too.
The Forward has a good piece up by Nathan Guttman that describes Indyk’s long history of devotion to Israel then conveys criticism of him for his untoward comments at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Indyk’s prepared remarks were “detailed, impassioned and painstakingly evenhanded,” wrote Robert Satloff, the institute’s executive director in a later analysis of the speech. But in his off-the-cuff remarks afterward, Satloff said, “the brunt of criticism fell on the architects of Israeli settlement activity.”
[Dennis] Ross, who has been in Indyk’s shoes himself many times in the past, said that Indyk had “explained away” Abbas’ role in “shutting down” the talks by highlighting the role of Israel’s settlements in leading Abbas to withdraw.
Ross parted ways with Indyk on this. “I would stress the shutting down” by Abbas, Ross said.
Satloff puts the onus on Abbas in his own piece about the crisis at the Washington Institute:
Lost in the heavy focus on settlement activity — including the media stir it caused abroad — was important news Indyk revealed about the recent diplomacy, especially the fact that U.S. negotiators believed they may have had sufficient compromises from Israel to reach a breakthrough agreement, but Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas refused to even respond to American proposals when he came to Washington to meet with President Obama in mid-March.
Satloff also blames– John Kerry:
Of course, it may be too much to have expected Indyk to offer any mea culpas on behalf of his boss, Secretary Kerry. But details of such errors are already beginning to emerge. Earlier in the Weinberg Conference, for example, Israeli peace negotiator Michael Herzog revealed that Kerry had reached inconsistent understandings with each side on how to extend negotiations — including on the fourth tranche of prisoner releases — and thereby contributed to the delay in that process.
But Satloff acknowledges there is a crisis. And what is the answer? Satloff notes what Kerry himself has hinted he will do: state the terms of a resolution and then walk away. But that’s not wise, Satloff says. Israel would get blamed:
In the current situation, there is intense speculation as to Secretary Kerry’s next step. On the one hand, he could choose from variations on the “James Baker option”: endorse the focus on settlement activity as the principal, though not sole, reason for the breakdown in diplomacy, announce some version of the U.S. ideas sufficient for Israeli-Palestinian agreement, and invite the parties to call him whenever they have the “urgency” (to use Indyk’s term) to make the compromises needed for breakthrough. This would have the effect, if not the intent, of heaping the lion’s share of blame on Israel and effectively freeing Palestinians from responsibility for their actions (and inaction) in the process. While this type of policy may be alluring to some, it has the seeds of many future policy headaches, such as feeding international condemnation of Israel that the United States would have to work to counteract; feeding Israel’s sense of abandonment at a critical moment in the Iran nuclear negotiations; and feeding a potent mix of defiance and irresponsibility among Palestinians that might end with a much worse political configuration in Ramallah.
Alternatively, Kerry has a range of options to keep the United States — and him personally — engaged in peacemaking, though perhaps in a different format. This includes taking active steps with the parties to ensure the sustainability of their security cooperation; proposing unilateral steps each could take that might reshuffle the political situation in a way that makes formal negotiations more likely to succeed; coordinating with both sides to prevent a spiral of negative unilateral steps that would make a return to diplomacy more difficult
That’s conflict management. Occupation and checkpoints and no rights for Palestinians, forever, and no intifada either. The Palestinians in two prisons.
Back at the Forward, Nathan Guttman helpfully traces Indyk’s long history as an Israel supporter.
This 35-year record began at the heart of the pro-Israel establishment in Washington. Steve Rosen, a former senior official with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful Washington lobby, had mentored Indyk at the Australian National University, and then invited him to move to Washington and run the lobby’s regular publication, Near East Report. Shortly after, Rosen recommended Indyk as the first director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank founded by AIPAC supporters.
“This is a guy who had read every book ever published with the word ‘Israel’ in its title,” Rosen said of his protégé. Indyk, he noted, had both exceptional analytical capabilities, and “great diplomatic skills.”
These same skills impressed Bill Clinton when Indyk was among those who briefed him on Israel in the early stages of his 1992 presidential campaign. This led eventually to Clinton choosing the young analyst as his chief Middle East adviser upon taking office.
Yes, the Israel lobbyist was brought into the Clinton camp in 1992, as Clinton was raising a lot of pro-Israel money, and Clinton ran to the right of Bush on settlements, and unseated the incumbent. Guttman says that Indyk’s lack of protocol in the last week reflects the fact that he’s a blunt Australian.
Update: Elliott Abrams also blames Kerry and Indyk and Obama. “Martin’s Myths,” at the Weekly Standard, castigates Indyk’s
failure to cast any blame on the third side of the triangle: the United States, or more precisely Kerry and Indyk himself. Blaming his boss, and his boss’s boss, President Obama, was more than could legitimately have been expected from Indyk, but a wee bit of introspection was not. Historians will not have to be consulted decades from now to analyze the manifold errors in Obama administration handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict..
Jeffrey Goldberg has also chimed in. The lobby water-carrier is careful to blame Abbas.
This week, perhaps in reaction to the reaction to [Nahum] Barnea’s article [in which American officials fingered Israeli settlements], American officials I spoke to were careful to apportion blame in a way that was slightly more evenhanded (to borrow a loaded term from the annals of American peacemaking). There is no doubt that the underlying message is the same: The Netanyahu government’s settlement program, in the officials’ view, is the original sin committed in the nine-month process (the original sin of the Middle East conflict is located elsewhere). But officials I spoke to said that they are peeved — a word one of them actually used — at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for, in essence, checking out of the peace process as early as February.
Also note the transformation of the word “evenhanded.” As Goldberg indicates, it used to be that no one wanted to be caught dead being evenhanded. That was like being an Arabist, it suggested you were too interested in Palestinian grievances. The landscape is shifting.