The Palestinian Refugee Issue is Not Going to Resolve Itself

When I started getting serious about action on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the associated US foreign policy, I found it imperative to Talbieh Palestinian Refugee Camp in Jordanconvince people that the Oslo Accords were doomed to fail. There were the obvious critiques of the accords: the lack of any sort of human rights framework, the absence of consequences for failing to abide by conditions or fulfill agreed upon commitments, and the formal recognition of Israel without any mention whatsoever of a potential Palestinian state. But I saw an even bigger obstacle.

Conventional wisdom has it that Jerusalem is the most difficult stumbling block. But I have always maintained that it is the Palestinian refugees that were the most serious obstacle to a negotiated solution. Read more at LobeLog

Obstacle: The US Role In Israel-Palestine

Obstacle: The US Role In Israel-Palestine

A slightly edited version of this article originally appeared at LobeLog

Photo: US Secretary of State John Kerry leaves the US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, behind as he concludes his failed trip to Israel on April 1, 2014. Credit: State Department

Photo: US Secretary of State John Kerry leaves the US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, behind as he concludes his failed trip to Israel on April 1, 2014. Credit: State Department

There are many false clichés about the Israel-Palestine conflict. There are also some very true ones, though these are heard less frequently. Perhaps the most profound of these was proven once again this week: the United States is incapable of playing a positive role in this arena.

There is nothing about that statement that should be controversial. A decades-long line of U.S. politicians and diplomats have spoken of the need to resolve this conflict. In recent years, these statements have often been accompanied by an acknowledgment of the need for “Palestinian self-determination.” But Israel is the one country, among all of the world’s nations, of whom those very same leaders speak in terms of an “unbreakable bond,” a country between whose policies and ours there “is no daylight.”

Let’s say my brother gets in a dispute with someone else, perhaps even someone I am acquainted with. Would anyone think that I would be the appropriate person to mediate that conflict? If my brother also had a lot more money and influence in the conflict, and therefore a fair mediation needed a broker who was willing to pressure my brother into compromise because, right or wrong, he does not have incentive to do so. Am I the person to be expected to level that playing field? Continue reading

Mideast Peace Talks Get New Lease on Life

Six months of United States diplomatic efforts have finally restarted talks between Israelis and Palestinians, yet pessimism about their potential for success persists.

On Monday, negotiators from both sides met in Washington for the first time since talks broke off three years ago, amid Israel’s refusal to concede to the Palestinian demand that construction in Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, be suspended during the talks.

The latest round of resuscitated talks was finalised when Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners who have been in Israeli prisons for decades. The first group of those prisoners is expected to be released next week, while further releases will occur periodically, depending on the progress of negotiations.

”The talks will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months,” a State Department statement said.

The negotiations are expected to last some nine months, at the end of which the U.S. hopes to have an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on all “final status” issues, including borders, settlements, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and other contentious points.

To manage the process, the United States has appointed its former ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, as lead negotiator. While early indications are that Indyk is an acceptable choice to both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his appointment has also been controversial on all sides.

Hardline supporters of Israeli policy consider Indyk too soft on the Palestinians. When word first leaked of Indyk’s pending appointment a week ago, Israeli Deputy Minister of Defence Danny Danon, a leading opponent of peace with the Palestinians, wrote a letter to Netanyahu opposing Indyk and asking the Prime Minister to “…ask the American administration for an honest broker for these negotiations.”

He bases his opposition to Indyk’s support of the New Israel Fund, a moderate, liberal international Jewish group which has been the focus of a smear campaign, including unsubstantiated accusations of funding “anti-Zionist” programmes in Israel.

Pro-Palestinian forces have also questioned Indyk’s appointment, claiming that his background with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and his years as the first head of the AIPAC-backed Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), show a strong pro-Israel bias.

Finally, many other observers question the wisdom of appointing a figure who was so central to the failed negotiations of the past, particularly in the 1990s, including the disastrous Camp David II summit of 2000, which preceded the start of the second intifada.

With the framework for the talks shrouded in secrecy by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the appointment of Indyk is one of the few indicators for the direction the talks are being steered in, and therefore the main focal point of analysis. Groups which strongly support the continuation of the Oslo process and a strong and immediate push for a two-state solution have come out strongly in support of Indyk.

Debra DeLee, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, said, “Ambassador Indyk is an experienced diplomat and a brilliant analyst. He has the skills, the depth of knowledge, and the force of personality to serve Secretary Kerry as an excellent envoy.”

“He knows the issues, he knows the leaders and the negotiators, and he has a proven record of commitment to peace and to a progressive Israel that lives up to its founding fathers’ vision of a state that is both Jewish and a democracy.”

DeLee’s view was echoed by Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying group, J Street.

“The negotiations ahead promise to be tough and will require active, determined and creative US leadership and diplomacy if they are to succeed. Ambassador Indyk can bring all these attributes to the task. Secretary of State John Kerry could not have chosen a more qualified envoy.”

But Stephen Walt, professor of International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, is dubious about Indyk’s role.

“There are obvious reasons to be concerned by Indyk’s appointment,” Walt told IPS. “He is passionately devoted to Israel, and began his career in the United States working for AIPAC, the most prominent organisation in the Israel lobby.

“He was among the team of U.S. diplomats who bungled the Oslo peace process during the Clinton administration (1993-2001). He was also a vocal supporter of the invasion of Iraq, which casts serious doubt on his strategic judgment or knowledge of the region. There is no reason for the Palestinians to see him as a true ‘honest broker’.”

Yet while Indyk’s past association with the U.S. pro-Israel lobby has raised eyebrows, few doubt that he is currently much less connected to it than his predecessor as the leading interlocutor with Israel and the Palestinians, Dennis Ross. Ross, who played a central role in U.S. Middle East diplomacy in the administrations of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, is currently a counselor at WINEP.

Walt acknowledges the possibility that Indyk’s position might be different now than it was when he last engaged directly in Israel-Palestine peacemaking.

“Indyk’s views seem to have evolved over time,” Walt said. “He may understand that this is his last chance to make a genuine contribution to Israeli-Palestinian peace. It is also the last chance for a genuine two-state solution, which remains the best of the various alternatives.

“Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians should all hope that he surprises us, and that the elder Indyk behaves in ways that the younger Indyk would have strenuously opposed.”

Indyk to be US Rep. to Israel-Palestinian Peace Talks

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)

David Ivry, Paul D. Wolfowitz,  Ariel Sharon, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Martin Indyk, at the Pentagon, March 2001

David Ivry, Paul D. Wolfowitz, Ariel Sharon, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Martin Indyk, at the Pentagon, March 2001

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. Continue reading

Losing American Interest

President Obama has now left Israel and is winding up his trip. His speeches sounded very counter-productive, offering no hope for progress. And I suspect that was just the message he was sending, especially to Israel. I explain in this week’s Souciant column.