Mr. Martin Indyk, the former US special envoy to the Middle East and former US ambassador to Israel, is in the news again. On Tuesday, January 5th, he was quoted on national public radio regarding a statement that Benjamin Netanyahu alleged made when the two of them were attending the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral in 1995. According to Mr. Indyk, Mr. Netanyahu said this about Mr. Rabin: “He’s a hero now, but if he had not been assassinated, I would have beaten him in the elections, and then he would have gone into history as a failed politician.” Mr. Netanyahu denies ever having made such a statement to Mr. Indyk.
Mr. Indyk apparently is of the view that it was wrong for Mr. Netanyahu to express such a thought at Mr. Rabin’s graveside, and perhaps he's correct. Probably, reasonable minds could disagree on the degree of disapproval that would attach to such a statement. Apparently, even on Mr. Indyk’s version of events, Mr. Netanyahu’s statement was made only to Mr. Indyk and not to the general public. It even is possible that Mr. Netanyahu believed that Mr. Indyk would treat the statement as confidential. All of this, of course, assumes that Mr. Netanyahu did in fact make the statement, which the Prime Minister’s office insists “never happened.”
We will almost certainly never be sure whether Mr. Netanyahu made the statement attributed to him by Mr. Indyk, or any other statement close to it. One thing we can be sure of, however, is that Mr. Indyk is not a big fan of Mr. Netanyahu. You won’t find Mr. Indyk turning cartwheels in the Prime Minister’s cheer-leading squad. A review of Mr. Indyk’s recent comments about the Prime Minister’s role in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict might give us some clue as the reliability of his memory regarding statements Mr. Netanyahu did or didn’t make two decades ago.
In November of 2015, Mr. Indyk addressed the Haaretz peace conference in Tel Aviv. In the course of his remarks, he said that Mahmoud Abbas, who is now in the eleventh year of what was supposed to be a four-year term as president of the Palestinian National Authority, “could become a partner tomorrow for the deal [Israel would] like to make if there was a settlement freeze,” and also that, “I can tell you, from personal experience, they [the settlements] are the problem.” This is very strong language, indeed: Israeli settlement-building activity is apparently the only obstacle to a full-fledged peace agreement with the PA. And, because Prime Minister Netanyahu has refused to impose such a freeze, it would further seem that all the blame for the failure to reach a solution ought to fall on Mr. Netanyahu’s shoulders.
How realistic is Mr. Indyk’s view that the settlements are the problem standing in the way of a solution? Suppose the current Israeli government were to impose a complete freeze on all settlement-building activity: what would happen next? According to Mr. Indyk, what would happen next is a mutually satisfactory peace agreement between the State of Israel and a new State of Palestine, with the two sovereign states living side by side in peace with secure borders. But, how would that happen? In particular, how would Mr. Abbas manage to bind the Palestinians, the people whom he purports to lead, to such an agreement?
According to the Palestinians themselves, the new state that is to be ushered into existence will be comprised of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. But Mr. Abbas hasn’t set foot in Gaza since 2007, and for good reason. He fears that Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group that violently seized control of Gaza from the PA in 2007, would assassinate him if it had the chance. And, of course, it is Hamas and other Islamist terrorist groups operating out of Gaza that send rockets and dig tunnels into Israel. These groups are all dedicated, as a matter of religious conviction, to the destruction of Israel. They consider Mr. Abbas to be their enemy, not their leader.
So, if we were to join Mr. Indyk in assuming that, once a freeze on settlement-building is in place, Mr. Abbas very soon thereafter signs a peace agreement with Israel, what is that ‘agreement’ worth to Israel? In a word: nothing. The groups with the rockets, explosive belts, and terror tunnels—Hamas and its comrades in Gaza—would never be bound by a piece of paper signed by Mr. Abbas and the Israeli government. They would consider such an agreement an act of treason on Mr. Abbas’ part. The PA clearly lacks both the ability and the will to exert the kind of force that could wrest control of Gaza from the Islamist terrorists.In Mr. Indyk’s expert opinion, none of these objections to his vision of peace really has any weight. The only difficulty he can see is the absence of a settlement freeze. With all due respect to Mr. Indyk, I believe his vision is a delusion completely at odds with all the relevant facts on the ground. And, for that reason, I’m inclined to think that his recollection of what Mr. Netanyahu said to him twenty years ago might be similarly divorced from reality.