The former ambassador to Israel tapped by Secretary of State John Kerry as U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations just a year and a half ago voiced pessimism about the prospects for a peace agreement.
Israel Army Radio on Tuesday unearthed an archived recording of an interview it had conducted in Jerusalem with former Ambassador Martin Indyk then, in which he was asked about the prospects that the two sides would resume negotiations.
Indyk said then (emphasis added), “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 [Palestinian Authority President 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.”
Member of Knesset Ayelet Shaked of the right-wing Jewish Home Party which opposes Israeli territorial concessions to the Palestinians quickly responded, telling Army Radio, “It shows that we are simply surrendering to John Kerry. Surrendering to his obsession.”
“We simply released 104 murderers. It’s obvious that nothing will come of it, and it’s time that Israel admit that at this moment there is no solution to the conflict, and we need to manage the conflict,” Shaked added.
Shaked was referring to the Israeli government’s decision on Sunday to free 104 long-serving convicted terrorists from prison as a gesture to the Palestinians.
Army Radio reports that the State Department issued a statement to the station in response to its report about the old audio: “Ambassador Indyk is committed to work in the field. Both sides have recently shown a willingness to make tough decisions in the face of internal political opposition. They would not have done so if [they] did not have serious intentions.”
Indyk, who is now on leave from his position as Director of Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, hasn’t tweeted in more than a week, but on July 19 wrote, “So Kerry did it. By George he did it! Negotiations will resume forthwith. Now watch the naysayers declare there’ll never be an agreement.”
While he may have had a change of heart, less than two year ago he told Army Radio: It’s “very hard to believe that they will reach an agreement.”
Haaretz reports that Indyk earlier this year was encouraging Israel to get back to peace talks, suggesting that the main issue behind the poor relations between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the “the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Indyk told Army Radio then that Israel has to realize that “there is a partner, just up the road in Ramallah. His name is Abu Mazen [Mahmoud 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 according to quotes provided by Haaretz.
In his press briefing Monday addressing the resumption of peace talks, Kerry also conceded how challenging he believes the process is going to be. “Going forward, it’s no secret that this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time. It’s no secret, therefore, that 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 said according to the official State Department transcript.
“Ambassador Indyk is realistic. He understands that Israeli-Palestinian peace will not come easily and it will not happen overnight. But he also understands that there is now a path forward and we must follow that path with urgency,” Kerry added.
Indyk, who served in a similar diplomatic role under President Bill Clinton, told Kerry at the meeting with reporters at the State Department on Monday, “I’m therefore deeply grateful to you and to President Obama for entrusting me with the mission of helping you take this breakthrough and turn it into a full-fledged Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. It is a daunting and humbling challenge, but one that I cannot desist from.”
“Perhaps, Mr. Secretary, through your efforts and our support, 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,” Indyk added.
In his statement welcoming the resumption of negotiations, President Obama said, “This is a promising step forward, though hard work and hard choices remain ahead.”
Israeli negotiator and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said on Monday, “We live in a tough neighborhood. To be optimistic is something that we cannot afford, but there is some hope. It is reachable and we need to do it.”
Here is video from Israel Hayom showing the arrival of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at the State Department on Monday: