Tuesday, May 06, 2014

US envoy to resign after blaming settlements for talks failure’

Martin Indyk cited as member of Kerry team who warned, in anonymous account of negotiations at weekend, that Palestine will rise ‘whether through violence or via int’l organizations’

By JTA and Times of Israel staff

Former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk

Martin Indyk, US special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, reportedly will resign from his position following the recent failure of the US-backed talks.

The Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported that Indyk is considering resigning in light of President Barack Obama’s intention to suspend US involvement in seeking a negotiated end to the conflict, citing unnamed Israeli officials “who are close to the matter.” Indyk has informed the Brookings Institute that he will soon return to his vice president post, from which he took a leave of absence during the negotiations, Haaretz reported.  
It also said Indyk is being identified in Jerusalem as the anonymous source in a report by Yedioth Aharonoth columnist Nahum Barnea on Friday in which unnamed American officials primarily blamed Israel for the failure of the peace talks.
“There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort’s failure, but people in Israel shouldn’t ignore the bitter truth – the primary sabotage came from the settlements,” the official told Barnea. “The Palestinians don’t believe that Israel really intends to let them found a state when, at the same time, it is building settlements on the territory meant for that state. We’re talking about the announcement of 14,000 housing units, no less. Only now, after talks blew up, did we learn that this is also about expropriating land on a large scale. That does not reconcile with the agreement.

“At this point, it’s very hard to see how the negotiations could be renewed, let alone lead to an agreement. Towards the end, [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas demanded a three-month freeze on settlement construction. His working assumption was that if an accord is reached, Israel could build along the new border as it pleases. But the Israelis said no.”
The official said the world community pays more attention to Israel’s actions than other countries because “(I)t was founded by a UN resolution. Its prosperity depends on the way it is viewed by the international community.”
He added: “The Jewish people are supposed to be smart; it is true that they’re also considered a stubborn nation. You’re supposed to know how to read the map: In the 21st century, the world will not keep tolerating the Israeli occupation. The occupation threatens Israel’s status in the world and threatens Israel as a Jewish state.”
Later in the interview the official told Barnea: “The Palestinians are tired of the status quo. They will get their state in the end – whether through violence or by turning to international organizations.”
According to the official, the United States is “taking a time out to think and reevaluate.”
In Barnea’s lengthy article Friday, American officials directly involved in the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace process over the last nine months gave a withering assessment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the negotiations, and indicated that Abbas has completely given up on the prospect of a negotiated solution.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials highlighted Netanyahu’s ongoing settlement construction as the issue “largely to blame” for the failure of uS Secretary of State John Kerry’s July 2013-April 2014 effort to broker a permanent peace accord.
Barnea, who described his conversations with the American officials as “the closest thing to an official American version of what happened” in the talks, said the secretary is now deciding whether to wait a few months and try to renew the negotiating effort or to publicize the US’s suggested principles of an agreement.
Detailing how the US sought to solve disputes over the core issues of a two-state solution, Barnea wrote on Friday that, “using advanced software, the Americans drew a border outline in the West Bank that gives Israel sovereignty over some 80 percent of the settlers that live there today. The remaining 20 percent were meant to evacuate. In Jerusalem, the proposed border is based on Bill Clinton’s plan — Jewish neighborhoods to Israel, Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians.”
He quoted the Americans saying that while the Israeli government made no response to the American plan, and also failed to draw its own border outline, Abbas agreed to the US-suggested border outline.
One bitter American official told Barnea, “I guess we need another intifada to create the circumstances that would allow progress.”
The American officials described to Barnea what they called Abbas’s loss of trust in the talks and in Netanyahu, and how his skepticism hardened as settlement-building continued, and as Israel demanded complete security control over the territories. From Abbas’s point of view, the Americans told Barnea, the sense was “that nothing was going to change on the security front. Israel was not willing to agree to time frames; its control of the West Bank would continue forever. Abbas reached the conclusion that there was nothing for him in such an agreement. He’s 79 years old. He has reached the last chapter of his life. He’s tired. He was willing to give the process one final chance, but found, according to him, that he has no partner on the Israeli side. His legacy won’t include a peace agreement with Israel.
“In February, Abbas arrived at a Paris hotel for a meeting with Kerry. He had a lingering serious cold. ‘I’m under a lot of pressure,’ he complained. ‘I’m sick of this.’ He rejected all of Kerry’s ideas. A month later, in March, he was invited to the White House. Obama presented the American-formulated principles verbally — not in writing. Abbas refused.”
In a rare attribution of some blame to Abbas, the Americans said they “couldn’t understand why it bothered him so much” to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. But here too, ultimately, the Americans were empathetic to Abbas: “The Palestinians came to the conclusion that Israel was pulling a nasty trick on them. They suspected there was an effort to get from them approval of the Zionist narrative.”
Some of the warnings delivered by the Americans reflected a similar tone to that expressed by Obama in an interview he gave shortly before his last meeting with Netanyahu at the White House in March.
Israel can expect to face international isolation and possible sanctions from countries and companies across the world if Netanyahu fails to endorse a framework agreement with the Palestinians, Obama cautioned in an interview with Bloomberg at the time. If Netanyahu “does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach,” Obama said then. “There comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices,” he said.
The president went on to condemn Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank, and said that though his allegiance to the Jewish state was permanent, building settlements across the Green Line was counterproductive and would make it extremely difficult for the US to defend Israel from painful repercussions in the international community. “If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction — and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time — if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited,” Obama warned.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s disastrous attempt to bring peace to the Middle East is not going quietly into the night after its collapse in the last month. Kerry made clear his own prejudices, as well as his misunderstanding about the reality of the conflict, when he told the Trilateral Commission that Israel would become an “apartheid state” if it failed to make peace. Though Kerry had to offer a non-apology apology in which he regretted his choice of words, the slur illustrated his own animus for the Jewish state’s positions. It also was fuel to the fire for the campaign of hatred that is bolstered by such canards. But not satisfied with that shot fired over the bow of the Netanyahu government, the administration doubled down on the “Israel is to blame” argument with an interview given by anonymous “senior American officials” with Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea available here on YNet.com in English.
There is nothing terribly surprising with the postmortem on the talks, the source for which (if you believe Haaretz) is believed to be Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk. Indyk, who is resigning his post as U.S. negotiator and going back to his Washington sinecure at the Brookings Institution, has a long history of bad blood with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu dating back to his controversial tenure as U.S. ambassador to Israel in the 1990s. But rather than merely file this away as another example of the poisonous personal politics that can intrude into diplomacy, a close yet critical reading of the interview reveals more about why the Obama administration’s peace efforts failed than anything about what the Israelis have done. Like the public statements made by both President Obama and Secretary Kerry in which they praised Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas while trashing Netanyahu, the U.S. has repeated the Clinton administration’s mistake in whitewashing Yasir Arafat in the 1990s. In doing so, they have effectively made the already slim chances for peace even more unlikely.

The details of Indyk’s . Though he attempts to portray Netanyahu as intransigent, even his interviewer is forced to point out that even the prime minister’s rival Tzipi Livni, whom Indyk praises extravagantly as a “heroine,” admitted that in fact it was Netanyahu who had moved off of his previous positions on a possible agreement while Abbas had not moved an inch.
Indyk counters that by trashing Israel’s entirely reasonable demands for security guarantees that would ensure that West Bank territory it gave up would not turn into another version of Gaza after Ariel Sharon’s disastrous 2005 retreat. He also claims that Abbas made great concessions in agreeing to a deal in which Israel would keep Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and 80 percent of West Bank settlements. But having agreed to terms that roughly match what Netanyahu is believed to have offered, Abbas walked away from the talks rather than negotiate their implementation. That isn’t peacemaking. It’s obstruction that allowed him to avoid taking responsibility for making a peace that he fears his people don’t want.
Indyk also tells us a great deal about administration cluelessness when he admits he didn’t understand why Abbas refused to even discuss recognizing Israel as a Jewish state even when the Israelis were preparing versions of a statement that would at the same time recognize “Palestine” as the nation state of Palestinian Arabs.
“We couldn’t understand why it bothered him so much,” the anonymous U.S. official said. Really? Saying those two symbolic words—“Jewish state”—would have gone a long way to convincing the Israeli public that Abbas was sincere about wanting to end the conflict for all time. His refusal signaled that the PA and its new partner Hamas want no part of any treaty that signals the end of their century-old war against Zionism. If Indyk and Kerry didn’t understand the significance of this issue, they are not only demonstrating their unwillingness to hold the Palestinians accountable, they are also showing an alarming lack of diplomatic skill.
Finally, Indyk’s focus on Israel’s diplomatic offenses during the process is also important. Indyk can’t let go of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s criticism of Kerry as a man in search of a Nobel Peace Prize, terming it a “great insult.” But it had nothing to do with the negotiations and might well have been a sign that the leading right-winger in the Cabinet was alarmed at how much Netanyahu was conceding in the talks.
Lastly, Indyk falls back on the same settlements excuse that Israel’s critics always cite as proof that the Jewish state is obstructing peace. But the focus on how many “settlements” were being built during the talks is a red herring because almost all of the “settlements”—which are actually merely new houses being built in existing communities and not new towns—were being built in exactly the places Abbas supposedly had conceded would stay in Israel. In other words, the building had no impact on the peace terms. For Indyk to specifically blame the announcement that several hundred new apartments would be built in the Gilo section of Jerusalem as the straw that broke the camel’s back of peace is absurd. Gilo, a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in the capital, would remain inside of Israel even if peace were reached. How, then, could a few more apartments in a place that would never be surrendered by Israel serve as an acceptable rationale for a Palestinian walkout, as Indyk indicates?
The answer to that question is that the Americans are so invested in Abbas’s shaky credibility as a peacemaker that they were prepared to swallow any excuse from him. The truth is Abbas never had any genuine interest in peace and fled the talks the first chance he got. He indicated that lack of interest by going back to the United Nations in an end run around the talks and sealed it by making a deal with Hamas rather than Israel. But all Indyk can do is blame Netanyahu. The interview tells us all we need to know about how inept American diplomacy has become.

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