Martin Indyk spoke at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy yesterday and placed most of the blame on the Israelis for the breakdown in talks and echoed Palestinian frustration. He said in essence that the Israelis aren’t serious about negotiations. They can’t even stop settlements for three months; and those unending settlements are acting to bring on a binational state and “mortally wound the idea of Israel as a Jewish state,” which would be “a tragedy of historic proportions.” (Do you think that would be a tragedy? I don’t. Neither do most Americans.)
Here are some of his comments. I’m leaving out Indyk’s faulting the Palestinians for seeking to join international bodies and reaching a reconciliation deal with Hamas, because the blame on Israel had so much more weight in his remarks.
First, on the unending settlement construction, all over the West Bank:
We have also spoken about the impact of settlement activity. Just during the past nine months of negotiations, tenders for building 4,800 settlement units were announced and planning was announced for another 8,000 units. It’s true that most of the tendered units are slated to be built in areas that even Palestinian maps in the past have indicated would be part of Israel. Yet the planning units were largely outside that area in the West Bank….
The Palestinians have demanded that Israel show the borders of its state. Indyk echoes that demand.
Indeed, according to the Israeli Bureau of Census and Statistics, from 2012 to 2013 construction starts in West Bank settlements more than doubled. That’s why Secretary Kerry believes it is essential to delineate the borders and establish the security arrangements in parallel with all the other permanent status issues.
In that way, once a border is agreed each party would be free to build in its own state.
Here’s the bit about Israel mortally wounding the idea of a Jewish state by creating a binational state.
I also worry about a more subtle threat to the character of the Jewish state. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has made clear, the fundamental purpose of these negotiations is to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish and democratic state − not a de facto bi-national state. The settlement movement on the other hand may well drive Israel into an irreversible binational reality. If you care about Israel’s future, as I know so many of you do and as I do, you should understand that 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. If this continues, it could mortally wound the idea of Israel as a Jewish state – and that would be a tragedy of historic proportions.
Indyk says that 80 percent of the settlers will stay under a deal, but that Netanyahu is politically incapable of agreeing to any freeze on settlements, even for three months, which is a condition for negotiations.
Of course, Prime Minister Netanyahu can no more do a three-month construction freeze in the West Bank and east Jerusalem than he could before we started the negotiations, in the run-up to that, because that would collapse his government. And there’s no prime minister that I know anywhere who is willing to sacrifice his government. So, it’s not just that it sabotaged the negotiations, but it’s also a roadblock— one of the roadblocks, now—to the resumption of the negotiations. So, you know, we can rationalize it, we can explain it away, we can argue that they’re all going to be evacuated, or 80 percent of the settlers are
going to be accommodated, as part of the deal, which is probably true. But, in the meantime, the building of settlements, expansion of settlements, on land that the Palestinians believe is supposed to be part of their state—and the prevention of their ability to build in the same land—is a very problematic situation in terms of trying to resolve this conflict.
On Abbas’s terms for returning to negotiations. Indyk doesn’t see the Israelis as serious:
He will come back to negotiations if his test of seriousness is met, as I explained it to you: construction freeze in the West Bank and east Jerusalem for three months while the border is drawn—because if an Israeli government is prepared to do that, then from his point of view, that’s a serious negotiation. Other than that, he’s not interested.
Update: Arutz Sheva the rightwing Israeli website describes Indyk’s statements as “harsh” criticism and accusation, and quotes Netanyahu’s Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis saying the U.S. has fallen under the influence of Palestinian “propaganda.”
“It is unfortunate that a Palestinian lie also affects our friends,” Akunis stated. “There are not two truths here, only one: the Palestinians torpedoed the negotiations by choosing to reconcile with Hamas and take unilateral steps to apply to UN agencies.”