WASHINGTON – Of all the quips and snipes eaten like kibble by a hungry press over nine months of silence, no address has been more informative or significant on what transpired throughout this latest push for peace in the Middle East than one delivered by Martin Indyk to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Thursday night.
In a chronology of events steeped in a fresh history of the conflict, US special envoy to the peace process Indyk, who had been in the room for most encounters, charged both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas with failed leadership – with a preoccupation with today’s domestic politics, more interested in compounding competing narratives than in bringing their story lines closer together.
Israel took advantage of a deal forged in July to begin talks that allowed settlement planning and construction to continue, Indyk said, and announced thousands of units at sensitive points in the negotiations.
Indyk’s criticism of this was twofold: Firstly, that large pockets of Israel’s leadership does not seem to grasp how detrimental these actions are. But making matters worse, other politicians within the Israeli government knew full well the consequences, and pushed forward with settlement work in a deliberate effort to sabotage negotiations.
Near the end of the year, Abbas broke down from these “embarrassments,” Indyk said. Abbas relished in leaks to the press of growing tension between the US and Israel. And when asked to respond to proposals – even by the president of the United States – he refused to engage.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians from the outset chose a conspiracy theorist to lead negotiations on their behalf.
Their leadership does not understand that inciting violence against Jews, or praising their murderers as heroes, undermines the prospects of a Palestinian state, Indyk charged. Bravery, to them, is the pursuit of unilateral moves at the United Nations that require no compromise whatsoever.
The announcement of reconciliation with Hamas, just as Netanyahu was figuring out how to release the last batch of prisoners, was the “final step” in the breakdown of talks, Indyk explained, expressing hope that relations would not “dangerously spiral.”
Ultimately, Indyk said he learned a valuable lesson: That neither Netanyahu nor Abbas feel a sense of urgency to end the epic conflict.
“The parties, although both showing flexibility in the negotiations, do not feel the pressing need to make the gut-wrenching compromises necessary to achieve peace,” he said. “If we, the United States, are the only party that has a sense of urgency, these negotiations will not succeed.”
If distilled and quantified, it is possible to calculate whether Indyk was placing the majority of blame on one party over another. But that game fundamentally misses the point, and indeed undermines it. Because when both parties are more concerned with their pride or political gain than they are with resolution, they are, by definition, avoiding genuine leadership.
When either side is preoccupied with posturing and blame, neither will acknowledge that they, too, share in the failures.
The Palestinians will not get the state they hope for and deserve should they continue dysfunction and incitement to violence and anti-Semitism, Indyk said, before adding that reality dictates that Israel cannot remain Jewish if settlement construction does not cease.
“The obvious truth is that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are going away,” Indyk said in the expansive speech.
“They must find a way to live together in peace, respecting each other, side-by-side, in two independent states. There is no other solution.
“The United States stands ready to assist in this task,” he continued, “to help the leaders take their peoples to where they have never been, but where they still dream of going.”