'Kissinger was not actually seeking peace' in 1973, claims new book - interview

“He persuaded Israeli government to trade pieces of territory occupied in 1967 for time,” said Martin Indyk. “Territory for time, not territory for peace.

 Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger attends a conversation at the 2019 New Economy Forum in Beijing, China November 21, 2019.  (photo credit: REUTERS/JASON LEE)
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger attends a conversation at the 2019 New Economy Forum in Beijing, China November 21, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JASON LEE)

WASHINGTON – It was in February 1973, just eight months before the Yom Kippur War. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat sent his national security advisor to Washington to meet with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

“He sent him with a far-reaching peace initiative and a sense of urgency,” said Martin Indyk. “Had Kissinger taken that idea up and pushed through, it’s possible that the war might have been averted. There’s been quite a lot written about the role that Golda Meir Played in blocking these initiatives during that period, but Kissinger’s role is not known.”

This is one of the stories that are described in Indyk’s new book, Master of the Game (Knopf). The book details the history of Henry Kissinger’s diplomatic negotiations in the Middle East “that illuminates the unique challenges and barriers Kissinger and his successors have faced in their attempts to broker peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and what lessons we might draw for the future.”

Indyk is a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former US ambassador to Israel, assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, and special assistant to President Clinton. He served as President Obama’s special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from July 2013 to June 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Martin Indyk talk in Les Tuilleries in Paris September 8, 2013. (credit: REUTERS/SUSAN WALSH/POOL)U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Martin Indyk talk in Les Tuilleries in Paris September 8, 2013. (credit: REUTERS/SUSAN WALSH/POOL)

After the collapse of the last round of negotiations between Israel and Palestinians in 2014, Indyk decided to go back and look at Kissinger’s career, through extensive archival research.

“I discovered along the way that there was a huge amount of material in the archives,” he said. “[Kissinger] documented everything: every phone call, every conversation, every meeting; and 95% of that has been declassified.” In addition, he interviewed Kissinger some 12 times for the book.

Did you discover anything new along the way?

“The big revelation for me emerged from the study of his diplomacy was that Kissinger was not actually seeking peace [between Israel and Egypt]. The peace process that he initiated was to stabilize the American-dominated order in the region which, from his point of view, was more important because he looked at peace quite skeptically, from his own experience of appeasement before the Second World War and his own study of history. He had come to believe that the pursuit of peace with too much passion and energy could achieve the exact opposite. It could destabilize the order [in the region]. And so for him, peace was a problem rather than the solution. And his view was that the peace process that was necessary to stabilize the order, he made it incremental, step by step.

“He persuaded Israeli government to trade pieces of territory occupied in 1967 for time,” Indyk continued. “Territory for time, not territory for peace. Time to exhaust the Arabs. To bring them around to accepting Israel and being willing to live in peace with Israel, he believed that it would take a long time for Israel to reduce its isolation and increase its strength.

“ONE THING that I discovered from the archives was the opportunity that was missed by Kissinger in 1974, after he negotiated the Israel-Egypt disengagement agreement, to negotiate an Israel-Jordan disengagement agreement, which would have put Jordan back into the West Bank and created the framework for resolving the Palestinian issue in a Jordanian context,” said Indyk.

“The Jordanians were very keen to get a foothold back on the West Bank,” he said. “And the Israelis, first of all, Golda, even though at that point, it was a caretaker government, were keen to engage with the king, and they had a series of secret negotiations.” Kissinger was informed of those negotiations, but he would not get involved in them.

“As much of the Jordanians tried to get him to engage, he told the Israelis repeatedly, ‘It’s up to you, I’m not going to pressure you. I’m not going to get involved.’”

Kissinger was not involved, Indyk explains, because he was focused on getting Egypt out of the conflict with Israel.

“His focus was on order. That was like a foundation stone of the American-led order he created. You take Egypt out of the conflict, you transform the conflict; it is no longer possible for the Arab states to make war.”

What has changed in the past 50 years when it comes to Israel’s position in the region?

“What’s changed is exactly what Kissinger predicted; that eventually, the Arab states would come to accept Israel. And the Abraham Accords are the ultimate fulfillment of that. When the Emiratis justified recognizing Israel, they said they were exhausted by the conflict. Exactly the concept which Kissinger had expected would happen.”

The book is out during a strained week for the US-Israel relationship, after the State Department criticized the designation of six Palestinian NGO’s as terrorist groups, and pushed back after Israeli announcement of 3,000 housing units in the West Bank.

“Kissinger was fond of saying that Israel has no foreign policy, there’s only domestic politics,” said Indyk. “And this Israeli government is able to play that domestic political card in Washington, arguing that if you push us or try to constrain us, the government will come down, and that’s a pretty good argument to make in Washington.

“The Biden administration is willing to cut the government some slack for that reason,” Indyk continued. “But I think that the settlement announcements that were made this week, which include large-scale building in settlements that are well beyond the blocs, these things got beyond what the administration can accept. They’re not pushing Israel to take an initiative, and they’re not going to do things that strain the coalition,” Indyk said. “In return, it’s reasonable in my view for them to expect that the coalition is going to act with restraint. And the settlement activity that’s been announced here is not acting with restraint.”

He noted, however, that the Biden administration doesn’t want to get into a fight over settlements.

“It has much bigger fish to fry: Climate change, China, Russia, domestic agenda,” said Indyk. “Their interests in the region in general and in Israel in particular, is to have things calm down so they can focus elsewhere.”