Personalities and public policy


In democracies with strong institutions, individuals do not generally make major decisions. They come from parties, organizations, and governmental bodies, with the oversight of courts that are designed to neutralize the egos and policy preferences of those claiming leadership.

Yet personalities are part of the process, and can get in the way of decisions by chief executives, legislatures, administrative units, and their personnel who might want to assess in something close to rationality the nature of a country''s problems, along with its options, and the probabilities considered likely for the costs and benefits associated with each option.
Among the personalities involved in the recent failure of the Kerry peace process, and the blame game coming after, are Martin Indyk and Shimon Peres, as well as Barack Obama, John Kerry, Mahmoud Abbas, Tsipi Livni, Benyamin Netanyahu, various other politicians and aides.
Indyk is a  Jewish Democratic aparachnik who became an American after being British and then Australian, on the left side of the American Democratic Party as shown by his membership on the board of the New Israel Fund. He was Bill Clinton''s Ambassador to Israel, and appointed by Barack Obama and John Kerry to be their man at this year''s negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. 
It may be a stretch to speculate that he was selected in order to punish Netanyahu for his closeness to Sheldon Adelson and Mitt Romney.
Whether or not that was part of the reasoning, it was not a shrewd move. Sending a liberal Democrat to move things along with a Prime Minister identified with conservative Republicans is not the way to get things done, especially when the history of efforts to produce agreements between Israelis and Palestinians caution that chances of an agreement were on the wrong side of slim.
After the talks tanked, Indyk spent some time in the middle of a fray accusing and being accused.
Indyk''s put the blame on both parties, but with an emphasis on Israel''s settlement activity.

Ranking Israelis retorted that Indyk knew all along that Netanyahu was not going to accept another settlement freeze, after an earlier one brought forth nothing from the Palestinians. Reports are that Bibi offered the Americans either a prisoner release or a settlement freeze, but not both, as Israel''s inducement for the Palestinians.

Israeli officials claim that Indyk was informed about each settlement construction before it was announced, and presumably accepted them as part of the rules agreed upon.
Shimon Peres is not a pacifist, despite his tireless assertions that Mahmoud Abbas is a true partner, and that Israel and the Palestinians are within negotiating distance of significant agreements. 
Peres'' first major position in a career that is as old as Israel was Director General of the Defense Ministry. In that position, he did as much as anyone to obtain from the French the facility that is said to have made Israel a nuclear power, with all that goes with it to withstand heavy international pressure to do what the government does not want.
Peres is closer politically to Martin Indyk than to Benyamin Netanyahu. His first run for the presidency, in 2000, produced a campaign in the Knesset (the body that elects the President) under the label "Anybody but Peres." The concern was that he would use the largely ceremonial office to promote his own political agenda.
The result was the selection of Moshe Katsav, known to insiders as a man with excessive sexual appetites, but thought to be safer than Peres and likely to be made responsible by the prestige of the President''s Office.
As it turned out, it was just another arena for Katsav''s less savory appetites. He is currently in  Maasiyahu Prison, allowed home for occasional short visits.
Peres won election the next time, in 2007, when enough Knesset Members felt he was old enough to be safe.
Not entirely, in the view of numerous MKs to the right of center.
Most recently he claimed to have almost reached a framework agreement with Mahmoud Abbas, and complained that his achievement was torpedoed by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
"Almost" is the first hint of an exaggeration. And with Abbas, anything is possible if his partner is sufficiently safe on the left of Israeli politics. He is known for sounding accommodating when talking to audiences without authority to make official agreements. He has been forthcoming with Labor and Meretz Knesset Members invited to his salon in Ramallah, and to Israeli students vetted in advance by his aides. On these occasions he comes close to giving up the right of Palestinian refugees to return home, and sounds accommodating to Israel''s concern for a demilitarized Palestine and a security buffer in the Jordan Valley.
He is not at all generous to Israelis when he is speaking in Arabic to Palestinians.
Peres is just the kind of person that brings out the better colors in the Palestinian chameleon. Whatever Abbas and Peres discussed  about Palestine is not likely to be on the same page as Netanyahu. What Abbas tells Labor and Meretz MKs, Israeli students, and Shimon Peres is not what Abbas or his colleagues are willing to accept when negotiating with Israelis having the government''s mandate.
Indyk, Peres, Abbas, Netanyahu, Kerry, Obama, and several other politicians have had their say, and no doubt will continue talking about one another and past one another. Most of it will be part of the political static, or "sound and fury signifying nothing." What they and others actually do will be more weighty, but we are some distance from knowing what that might be.