Israel over the weekend attacked US envoy Martin Indyk for unfairly describing its West Bank settlement activity, explaining that he too played a role in the failure of the American led peace process.
“[It is] difficult to point to any significant contribution that he [Indyk] had made to the process,” a senior Israeli official said on Friday.
The official spoke in response to a speech Indyk delivered on Thursday night at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy at the Ritz Carlton in Washington. It was Indyk’s first speech since taking the position as chief moderator between the parties at the beginning of talks at the end of July 2013.
He was careful to list steps both Palestinians and Israelis took that led to the suspension of the process on April 29.
But in talking about the harm caused to the process by continued settlement activity, he dismissed a central Israeli claim that building and planning construction over the pre-1967 lines was acceptable during the negotiations.
The PA agreed to enter the talks only once Israel pledged to release 104 Palestinian prisoners held for their involvement in terrorist attacks that led to the death of Israeli citizens.
Israel said that in return for the releases it would be allowed to announce building and continue planning for homes over the Green Line during the nine-month negotiating period.
Israel released 78 of the prisoners in three stages during the talks. Each release was accompanied by building and planning announcements.
The break down of the talks prevented the final release of 26 prisoners.
On Thursday night, Indyk said there had been no such agreement during the talks.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “was humiliated by false Israeli claims that he had agreed to increased settlement activity in return for the release of prisoners,” Indyk said.
A senior Israeli official familiar with the talks accused Indyk of hypocrisy, saying he had known construction in the West Bank and Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem would continue during the discussions.
“Indyk comes and blames others without speaking about his own responsibility for the current impasse,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
The official said Indyk had been informed of the construction plans, down to the number of homes.
“Furthermore, he knew that it was on this basis that Israel agreed to enter the talks,” the official said. “So it’s not clear why now that should be criticized.”
In Washington on Friday, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki spoke out against West Bank settlement activity.
It is the opinion of US Secretary of State John Kerry “that if you care about Israel’s future, you should understand that settlement activity – rampant settlement activity, especially in the midst of negotiations – doesn’t just undermine Palestinian trust in the purpose of the negotiations, it also can undermine Israel’s Jewish future,” Psaki said.
On Thursday night Indyk said that Israel would only remain a Jewish state if its leadership showed bravery with the Palestinians.
Should Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cave to the politics of the day – to the settler movement, as Indyk described – then Israel faces a future as a “de facto binational state.”
Indyk said that continued settlement activity was harmful, and warned “it could mortally wound the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. And that would be a tragedy of historic proportions.”
“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,” Indyk said.
“It is easier for the Palestinians to sign conventions and appeal to international bodies in their supposed pursuit of ‘justice’ and their ‘rights,’ a process which by definition requires no compromise,” he said. “It is easier for Israeli politicians to avoid tension in the governing coalition and for the Israeli people to maintain the current comfortable status quo.”
“If we, the United States, are the only party that has a sense of urgency, these negotiations will not succeed,” Indyk added.
Kerry began the talks with the goal of achieving a final-status peace accord, with the establishment of a Palestinian state, by April 29, Indyk said.
“Signing accession letters to 15 international treaties at the very moment when we were attempting to secure the release of the fourth tranche of prisoners was particularly counterproductive,” he said.
The “final step” in the breakdown of negotiations was the announcement of reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, a terrorist organization as listed by Israel, the EU and the US, he said.
Indyk warned of a “dangerous spiral” should relations deteriorate further. At the end of the talks, the Obama administration declared a pause in negotiations after an aggressive effort on Kerry’s part.
In a plenary session after the speech, Indyk said that Abbas has been in search of a legacy, in bad health and old age, and sought reconciliation with Hamas for this purpose.
Israel’s leadership recognized this opportunity, he suggested, and upon recognizing the talks were doomed, sought to force blame for their failure on to the Palestinian leadership.
Reuters contributed to this story.