This piece originally appeared at LobeLog.
Martin Indyk is about to be named the US representative for the resuscitated Israel-Palestinian talks, according to a report from Israel’s Channel 2. (Though it seems Channel 2’s Ehud Yaari was not first with the news. That was actually the inestimable Laura Rozen at al-Monitor)
This says a great deal about the US role in the “peace process” and, indeed, the conflict in general. Indyk was the key force in founding the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), which is, in essence, the think tank of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In fact, Indyk went from working for AIPAC to working for them as WINEP’s first Executive Director in 1985.
He went on to be Bill Clinton’s special assistant for the Middle East and senior director of Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council. His government service culminated in appointments as US Ambassador to Israel from April 1995 to September 1997 and again from January 2000 to July 2001. Indyk was as central as any figure to the construction — and failures — of the Oslo process, the Camp David II summit in 2000 and the following years of downward spiral.
Having said that, I have met Indyk on several occasions and have followed his more recent work as Vice President and Director for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He knows the Middle East, he knows Israel and, unlike other key figures, has pretty decent knowledge of the Palestinians as a people and their leadership. And Indyk’s views these days are not exactly in line with those of AIPAC. If AIPAC’s views can reasonably be described as in line with Benjamin Netanyahu’s and Likud’s, Indyk would be closer to, say, Tzipi Livni or even the Labor Party. I believe he genuinely supports a two-state solution and recognizes at the very least that such a solution, to be sustainable, needs to meet the minimal requirements of most Palestinians and not rely on what the US might be able to force the PA to accept.
What that amounts to is that Indyk is probably the best representative we are likely to see from the United States. And therein lies the problem.
The inescapable truth is that Indyk’s baggage will magnify the already overwhelming pessimism surrounding the resumption of talks. Stephen Walt summed it up well in a tweet after this news reached the public: “Appointing Indyk as IP mediator is like hiring (Bernie) Madoff to run your pension. He had 8 years to do a deal in 90s and failed.”
Moreover, regardless of how liberal or more sympathetic to the Palestinians Indyk may be than, for example, former US Special Envoy Dennis Ross, he is still predisposed to favoring Israel in any negotiations. The Palestinians know this, the Israelis know it and so does every observer.
The key party who is well aware of Indyk’s bias toward Israel is, of course, AIPAC. The fact that Indyk is apparently being appointed to this position is a powerful indicator of the Obama administration’s determination to both renew talks and make sure they are conducted in a way that AIPAC does not object to. Can there be any clearer signal that the endgame of restarting talks was just that — resuming them without aiming for a resolution?
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