Going through the motions
The new U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin Indyk, see 2nd item. London-born, Sydney-educated Martin emigrated to the US where he became deputy research director for AIPAC. He became the USA’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel in 1995. Photo of Indyk on the CBS programme ‘Face the Nation’ by Screen shot
By Arshad Mohammed and Lesley Wroughton, Reuters
July 30, 2013
WASHINGTON – Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held their first peace talks in nearly three years on Monday in a U.S.-brokered effort that Secretary of State John Kerry hopes will end their conflict despite deep divisions.
Top aides to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas began the talks over an iftar dinner – the evening meal with which Muslims break their daily fast during Ramadan – hosted by Kerry at the State Department.
Kerry, who has prodded, coaxed and cajoled the two sides to resume negotiations in a flurry of visits to the Middle East during his less than six months in office, urged Israelis and Palestinians to strike “reasonable compromises.”
It was clear, however, from some public statements over the agenda for the talks – which are expected to run for nine months – and comments by Abbas, that there are major disagreements over issues such as borders and security.
“It is no secret this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago,” Kerry said with his newly named envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, at his side.
“Many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional, and symbolic issues,” Kerry added.
The talks started over dinner with Israel represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho, a close aide to Netanyahu, and the Palestinians by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Ishtyeh.
As the sides came together in Washington on Monday Kerry met separately with each, starting with the Israelis, before all came together around the dinner table. Kerry and his delegation of four, including new envoy Indyk, were seated on one side of the table and their guests on the other side, with the two main negotiators Livni and Erekat seated side by side.
“It’s very, very special to be here,” Kerry told his guests. “There isn’t very much to talk about at all,” he joked.
The parties have publicly sparred over how the negotiations will unfold, with an Israeli official saying all issues would be discussed simultaneously and a Palestinian official saying they would start with borders and security.
Speaking in Cairo on Monday, Abbas struck a hard line, saying that ultimately he did not want a single Israeli citizen or soldier on Palestinian land. His comments were made despite Kerry’s wish that both sides refrain from talking publicly about issues.
Israel has previously said it wants to maintain a military presence in the occupied West Bank at the border with Jordan to prevent any influx of weapons that could be used against it.
“In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands,” Abbas said in a briefing to mostly Egyptian journalists in Cairo.
In an interview with Reuters Television in Washington, Livni voiced some hope about the talks. “It is not a favor to the United States or to the Palestinians, this is something that we need to do,” she said.
Middle East analysts praised Kerry for persuading the two sides to resume talks but emphasized the difficulties ahead.
“Right now, there’s almost no chance of achieving a conflict-ending agreement; yet by pressing the Israelis and Palestinians back toward the table, the United States has assumed responsibility for producing one,” Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. peace negotiator, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece.
“Nobody appears to have a stake in the talks except the United States, and Mr. Kerry,” added Miller, who is now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars think tank.
The United States is seeking to broker an agreement on a “two-state solution” in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands occupied by the Israelis since a 1967 war.
The major issues to be resolved in the talks include borders, the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.
Even Indyk, Kerry’s new envoy, who has previously served as the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, noted that when Kerry began his efforts this year almost no one thought he would succeed in reviving the negotiations.
“You took up the challenge when most people thought you were on a mission impossible,” Indyk said.
Abbas and Netanyahu may have enormous difficulty convincing their own people to accept the compromises needed for peace, Middle East expert Rob Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank wrote on Monday.
Resuming talks is unpopular among some of Abbas’s supporters in his Fatah movement, which governs the West Bank, let alone with the Islamist Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip and has condemned the effort.
Netanyahu’s domestic politics are also difficult, with some of his coalition partners against the creation of a Palestinian state, Danin said, adding he may have to leave the Likud Party, as some of his predecessors did, in order to make concessions.
“Both sides will be negotiating, not only with each other across a table, but also with their own people back home.”
Indyk is a veteran of U.S. efforts to resolve the conflict. He was a senior official during former President Bill Clinton’s failed Camp David summit in 2000 after which violence erupted in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The last direct negotiations collapsed in late 2010 over Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements on occupied land it seized in the 1967 Middle East war.
Previous attempts to resolve the conflict have sought to tackle easier disputes first and defer the most emotional ones like the fate of Jerusalem and of Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinians, with international backing, want their future state to have borders approximating the boundaries of the West Bank, adjacent East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip before Israel captured them in the 1967 war.
In what it called a goodwill gesture to restart diplomacy, the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday approved the release of 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners in stages. Thousands more Palestinians remain in Israeli jails.
Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah
Army Radio interview with Martin Indyk reveals that, a year and a half ago, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel found it ‘very hard to believe’ parties would reach an agreement.
July 30, 2013
Martin Indyk embraced his role as special Middle East peace envoy during a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday night, expressing optimism and determination, saying, “Middle East peace is a daunting challenge but one that I can’t run away from.” He then added: “Peace is possible.”
However, as recently as a year and a half ago, Indyk took a rather pessimistic view of the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Army Radio reported Tuesday.
When asked more than a year ago what he thought of the chances the two sides would resume negotiations, Indyk told Army Radio: “I’m not particularly optimistic because I think that the heart of the matter is that the maximum concessions that this government of Israel would be prepared to make fall far short of the minimum requirements that Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] will insist on. So it may be possible to keep the talks going, which is a good thing but I find it very hard to believe that they will reach an agreement.”
Meanwhile, Indyk on Monday praised Israeli and Palestinian efforts to resume negotiations under Kerry’s auspices in Washington.
“Today, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas have made the tough decisions required to come back to the negotiating table,” he said. “Perhaps we may yet be able to tell all those young Israelis and Palestinians who yearn for a different better tomorrow that, this time, we actually made it.”
Earlier this year, Indyk said the time would be ripe for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had just been reelected, to try to turn a new page in relations with U.S. President Barack Obama. The main issue dividing the two countries right now is “the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Indyk said in an interview with Army Radio.
“Israel must realize that there is a partner for peace on the Palestinian side, Indyk said at the time. “There is a partner, just up the road in Ramallah. His name is Abu Mazen [Abbas], and he is committed to peace with Israel and to the two-state solution, and to preventing violence and terrorism.
“It’s important for Israel, which holds almost all the cards in this situation, to find a way to deal with him, and to make peace with him, and it’s not enough to put your head in the sand and to say that there is no partner and therefore we don’t have to worry about it anymore,” Indyk added.
“If the message of [the Israeli elections], is that Israelis want normal lives, they cannot have a normal life until they resolve the Palestinian problem,” the former ambassador concluded.