WASHINGTON -- Neither Israel nor the Palestinians sense urgency in their pursuit of peace with one another, Martin Indyk, US special envoy to the Middle East, said in an unprecedented speech on Thursday night.
Addressing the Washington Institute for Near East Policy at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, the speech was Indyk's first since taking the position as chief moderator between the parties at the beginning of talks nine months ago.
"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. 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.
In an expansive account of the talks, which began last July, Indyk minced few words while placing blame on both parties for what he prescribed as a "breakdown" in negotiations.
US Secretary of State John 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 that Israel would only remain the Jewish state if its leadership showed bravery with the Palestinians. Should Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu cave to the politics of the day— to the settler movement, as Indyk described— than Israel faces a future as a "de facto binational state."
"Rampant settlement activity– especially in the midst of negotiations— doesn’t just undermine Palestinian trust in the purpose of the negotiations," Indyk said. "It can undermine Israel’s Jewish future."
"If this continues," he added, "it could mortally wound the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. And that would be a tragedy of historic proportions."
And yet Indyk said the "final step" in the breakdown of negotiations was the announcement of reconciliation deal between Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, a terrorist organization as listed by Israel, the European Union and the United States.
"Signing accession letters to fifteen international treaties at the very moment when we were attempting to secure the release of the fourth tranche of prisoners was particularly counterproductive," Indyk said. "And the final step that led to the suspension of the negotiations at the end of April was the announcement of a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement while we were working intensively on an effort to extend the negotiations."
Indyk warned of a "dangerous spiral" should relations deteriorate further. At the end of the talks, the Obama administration declared a pause in negotiations, stubborn that negotiations were over 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.
Perhaps legitimizing the suggestion that the talks were at a pause— and had, in fact, not collapsed— Indyk raised the specter of talks between Israel and Egypt, moderated by the US, in 1975.
At that time, the secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, took a five month pause in talks before resuming negotiations between the parties. That diplomacy led to the Sinai II agreement, and ultimately, the Camp David Accords.
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