Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Give Indyk a break!

US peace envoy Martin Indyk, while deserving of criticism for his past failures, will not make or break negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

Since being tapped last week as John Kerry’s special envoy for Middle East peace, Martin Indyk, the long-time Middle East analyst, former US ambassador to Israel, and former peace process negotiator has been the target of a barrage of criticism.

Steve Walt chimed in early against Indyk, tweeting, “Appointing Indyk as IP mediator is like hiring [Bernie] Madoff to run your pension. He had 8 years to do a deal in the 90s and failed.”

Philip Weiss seriously questioned Indyk’s fairness, noting that Indyk previously worked for AIPAC, helped launch WINEP (which Weiss calls an AIPAC-aligned think-tank), and the suspicion he aroused over his commitment to Israeli settlements during his last stint as US peace mediator.

AP correspondent Matt Lee grilled State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki about Indyk’s appointment. Lee asked why, given Indyk’s more than a decade of peace process failures and the importance of reaching a deal, the administration chose a tired,  washed-up guy like Indyk instead of going with some “new blood,” as Lee called it.

Indyk has not exactly inspired confidence in the negotiations, tweeting “this is not the end…not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

It’s not that the criticism of Indyk isn’t fair – it certainly all is, especially questions about his impartiality to mediate a dispute between Israel and Palestine. The real question that keeps arising in my mind as I read yet another blog post or article full of criticism for Indyk is, “Does it actually matter?”

No, it doesn’t. Indyk did indeed fail for 8 years to achieve a peace agreement in the 90s, but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu have failed to achieve peace for far longer than 8 years. Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat have been involved in abysmal peace process failures for the better part of a decade as well. It’s just a simple fact that everyone involved, especially those appointed by the parties themselves, are grizzled veterans pushing handcarts of baggage into the negotiating room. The US choosing a spritely, passionate “new blood” mediator is not going to make or break these talks.

President Obama appointed George Mitchell in advance of the 2009 peace talks. Mitchell was widely hailed as a strong choice for mediator and had found significant success mediating negotiations in Northern Ireland, but a good envoy was unable to save those negotiations from the lack of vision set forth by the Obama administration (and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). The settlement freeze became the sole issue to litigate, the Israelis dug in without external pressure, Palestinian confidence bottomed out, and the entire process fell apart. Serious planning problems and a lack of pressure to make a deal canceled out entirely a good envoy nomination.

The lack of a final status vision from the Americans is again apparent in the new round of talks sponsored by John Kerry. A deal will be reached if the Palestinians have confidence in the viability of the state they’re going to be offered and the Israelis sense great enough international pressure on the settlements and have real concerns about Israel’s continued character as both Jewish and democratic.

Martin Indyk simply cannot provide or hinder what the parties need to reach a deal. It’s time to give the man a break.

Netanyahu and Abbas alone will determine if the two-state solution will be reached through negotiations.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mark your calendar for May 2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry has announced a 9-month timetable for the resolution of Israel-Palestine conflict. The two sides have also agreed to not make any public statements about the progress of talks and that "every issue is on the table."

No updates until May 2014, when Kerry and Obama announce an agreement.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Talks about talks to start tomorrow (Monday)

The US State Department has announced that preliminary discussions about the format and issues to be discussed in upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will begin tomorrow. MK Tzipi Livni will act as lead negotiator for the Israelis, with Saeb Erekat representing the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet also approved the release of 100 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture of good faith. The prisoners will be released in stages as talks between the two sides continue.

Tying continued peace talks to prisoner releases seems like a win for Netanyahu, who will be able to use the incremental nature of the releases to keep the Palestinians in talks. During the peace talks in 2009, the Palestinians insisted upon a settlement freeze to continue talks, but it's highly unlikely a settlement freeze would be tied to this round of talks.

While prisoner releases will gain Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas some popularity among Palestinians, a settlement freeze likely provides greater benefits to the Palestinians as a whole and keeps focus on continued Israeli settlement building and the consequences of that on a viable peace agreement.