The naming of Martin Indyk as the U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations is an ominous sign in an already dire situation for peace in the region. How can the United States expect an unbalanced assessment from a diplomat who, although at times critical of Israeli policies, has a background that clearly identifies him with one of the parties in the tragic Middle East conundrum?
In his presentation of Martin Indyk U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “In his memoir about the peace process, Ambassador Indyk quotes a poem by Samuel Coleridge that begins, ‘If men could learn from history, what lessons it would teach us!” Oblivious to Secretary Kerry is one of history’s main lessons: you need a totally independent person to deal with this critical issue.
Is the U.S. so bereft of talented and independent diplomats that time and time again the government chooses a person with such a pro-Israel background to represent it in the Middle East peace negotiations? Writing in Al-Jazeera, Richard Falk, a professor of international law at Princeton University and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights (who has a distinguished career as a human rights activist) says, “Does it not seem strange for the United States, the convening party and the unconditional supporter of Israel, to rely exclusively for diplomatic guidance in this concerted effort to revive the peace talks on persons with such strong and unmistakable pro-Israel credentials?”
If past activity is any indication, in 1982 Indyk began working as a deputy research director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), arguably the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group in the U.S. Congress. He went on to become a co-founder of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) in 1985. He had the support of Barbi Weinberg, a former president of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, and wife of former AIPAC Chairman Lawrence Weinberg.
In 2000, Indyk was involved in the failed Camp David Peace talks that were followed by the second Palestinian Intifada. In his book Innocent Abroad, Indyk wrote, “I was first drawn to the Middle East through my Jewish identity and connection to Israel.” This is a perfectly fair statement, but not one that establishes Indyk as a balanced peace negotiator in the Middle East.
Until his recent appointment as the U.S. envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Indyk was Vice President of the Brookings Institution and the Director of the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy. Indyk has acknowledged that he considers Haim Saban, the patron of the Saban Centre, as his “godfather.”
Saban has stated that his greatest concern is to protect Israel, and described his own formula to influence American politics: 1) make donations to political parties; 2) establish think tanks, and 3) control media outlets. Saban’s behavior has been extremely consistent with those principles. Saban’s donations to the Democratic Party during the 2001-2002 period exceeded $10 million, the largest donation to the party from a single source. He has founded a think tank and has extensive social connections with media moguls. Although Saban’s actions are consistent with his ideas, he is not an unbalanced observer of the Middle East scene, one to be emulated by Indyk.
In addition to being close to several Israeli leaders, Indyk is a board member of the New Israel Fund and of the National Security Studies in Israel and he is also a member of the advisory board of the Israel Democracy Institute. According to its own definition, the Israel Democracy Institute is an independent, non-partisan "think-and-do tank" dedicated to strengthening the foundations of Israeli democracy.
It is not surprising that many who work for Palestinian rights are deeply skeptical of Mr. Martin Indyk role as U.S. envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, considering his background and his activities in the past. There are plenty of U.S. diplomats with knowledge of the region who can have a more neutral approach to the situation. To name Mr. Indyk as an envoy is to place from the beginning a stumbling block on a peace process that never was.