In a step that underscores the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the US special envoy to the last round of talks, Martin Indyk, resigned on Friday to return to his former post at the Brookings Institute, a Washington think tank.
In a tweet posted Saturday, Indyk said of his return as vice president and director of foreign policy at Brookings that he is “battered but unbowed and extremely grateful to [Secretary of State] John Kerry.”
He thanked the team he had worked with on the nine-month peace process that ran from last July to April. In a subsequent tweet, he added, “Battered? If you had been in nine months of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, you wouldn’t have to ask.”
Kerry praised Indyk as an indefatigable diplomat who has dedicated decades of his career trying to achieve peace in the region.
“The United States remains committed not just to the cause of peace, but to resuming the process when the parties find a path back to serious negotiations,” Kerry said.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who was Israel’s representative at the last round of talks, said she had worked intensively with Indyk during that period.
“He had a personal commitment to the peace process and a deep understanding of the subject and the importance of a [final status] agreement to Israel’s future – he acted this way during difficult days, and so we will continue to act,” she said.
The Prime Minister’s Office and the Palestinian Authority had no comment on Indyk’s resignation.
State Department deputy spokesman Marie Harf said that Indyk would continue to “work closely with the secretary on these issues from his position at Brookings.”
She said that at present a permanent envoy would not be appointed to replace him and that Frank Lowenstein would act as special envoy to the peace process.
“At this point, there are no current plans to find a permanent replacement for him,” Harf said. She dismissed comments by reporters that the absence of a permanent envoy to the peace process means that the talks are dead.
“We’re in a pause right now,” Harf said. But she emphasized, “The secretary and the president, certainly, are still committed to trying to make progress here. While the direct negotiations have taken a pause, our efforts behind the scenes to work with both parties to get them back to the table are ongoing.
It’s challenging, certainly, but we’re still in discussions and we’re still in negotiations talking to them about how they could do that.”
Harf added that Lowenstein had been part of the team and had been involved in the peace process even before Indyk’s appointment as envoy. She added that the team is still in place and engaged with Israelis and Palestinians.
The peace talks faltered in April and broke down completely after the Palestinian Authority signed a unity pact with Hamas, which vows to destroy Israel. However, the PA insists it is possible to move forward with the peace process, because the newly formed government, jointly sponsored by Hamas and Fatah, is willing to accept Israel and is composed of technocrats.
The US and the EU said it would work with the new government, but Israel refused and said it could not negotiate peace with a government joined with Hamas.
But the June 12 kidnapping by Hamas of Israeli teens Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah has tested the bonds of the unity pact and removed from the table any discussion of resuming the peace process.
In an interview with Channel 2 over the weekend, outgoing President Shimon Peres said he believes that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a partner for peace and that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should meet with him, particularly given that Abbas has condemned the kidnapping.
“They need to meet and talk. Abbas said he would do everything to find the hostages and we should take advantage of it,” Peres said.
It is true, Peres said, that there are differences of opinion between Abbas and Netanyahu. But “the point of negotiations is to find common agreement where none exists. The point is you have to do it together.”
Khaled Abu Toameh and Reuters contributed to this report.
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