Indyk missed one key insight into the peace process

By Gershon Baskin, July 10, 2014

US special envoy to the last round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Ambassador Martin Indyk has, on two occasions, placed the bulk of responsibility for the failure of negotiations on Israel.

In his lecture to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on May 8, 2014, and in reported comments afterwards in a Washington bar, Ambassador Indyk focused on Israel’s continued settlement building as a primary cause of failure: “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 - can undermine Israel’s Jewish future.”

On July 2, 2014, at the Aspen Institute, Mr Indyk said that Netanyahu and Abbas should shoulder the blame equally. He indicated that the two leaders simply loathed each other.

As opposed to the first speech and talk in the Washington bar, in which he indicated clear areas of Palestinian compromises including agreeing to Israeli sovereignty in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, Israeli annexation and land swaps of about 4 per cent of the West Bank, Jerusalem as an open city with two capitals, Nato forces replacing Israeli forces and the demilitarization of the Palestinian state; in his second speech he spoke of never-mentioned-before Israeli compromises from Netanyahu.

Indyk apparently did not specify the compromises that Netanyahu was willing to offer but he said that Netanyahu “was moving into the zone of possible agreement”.

In both speeches, Indyk said that the issue of settlement building pushed Mahmoud Abbas to lose faith in the process and by February 2014, Abbas became locked in his positions and unwilling to make additional compromises.

Strikingly apparent throughout the nine months of negotiations was the failure of the Americans to bring Netanyahu and Abbas into the same room for direct talks. In all that time, there was not even one single direct conversation between the two leaders.

How could the American mediators believe that agreements could be reached without addressing the total lack of trust between the leaders? Indyk, and those who sent him, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, should have insisted that if the two leaders don’t meet face-to-face on a regular basis throughout the nine months, there would be no process at all.

The American should have forced the leaders into the same room and then left them alone, offering bridging proposals and guarantees as the negotiations progressed.

There is no guarantee that direct negotiations between the leaders would have succeeded. They probably wouldn’t have without the complete political will of both sides to reach an agreement, which was absent, but it should have been quite clear that if the leaders won’t agree to speak to each other, there is no chance at all.

It is worth mentioning that Abbas proposed secret direct meetings with Netanyahu at least three times - and it was Netanyahu who refused to meet.

Furthermore, we have learned that, once again, repeating the drastic mistakes of Camp David 2000, the American team concentrated on negotiating with Netanyahu, leaving Abbas in the dark for weeks at a time. They only came back to Abbas with proposals shaped to meet Netanyahu’s needs, but completely ignoring Abbas’s. Abbas later described the American proposals as Israeli positions, forcing him to be the naysayer.

Indyk’s comments and critique of the peace process may all be very valid but they also lacked self-reflection and introspection. It would be interesting to hear from him about the faults of the Americans in the process.

Gershon Baskin is the Co-Chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.

Last updated: 4:44pm, July 10 2014