Secretary of State John Kerry added to the already ample fanfare surrounding the launch of talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators by holding a press conference yesterday to introduce his new special envoy to the peace process, Martin Indyk.
Indyk, unlike his predecessor George Mitchell, has made a career out of the peace process – first as an active participant in the negotiations during the Clinton administration, where he was a National Security Council official and then as ambassador to Israel, and more recently at the Brookings Institution, where he has written, lectured, advised, and founded the Saban Forum, an annual Brookings conference on the peace process.
Kerry gave a simple reason for selecting Indyk: “He knows what has worked and he knows what hasn’t worked, and he knows how important it is to get this right.” Indyk indeed has cultivated the perception that he has not emerged from decades in the Middle East business empty-handed – itself a shrewd way of transforming his involvement in repeated failure into a story of hard-earned wisdom. In Indyk’s (and Kerry’s) telling, twenty years of trafficking in bad ideas and marching down dead-ends have forged a wise elder statesman, a hard-bitten veteran who won’t make rookie mistakes. Indyk’s memoir of his involvement in the peace process, published in 2009, is self-deprecatingly titled Innocent Abroad.
Unfortunately, this humble and attractive story simply isn’t true. Indyk’s record during the Obama era isn’t one of speaking tough truths earned from years of experience in the field. It is a typical Washington story, that of a careerist trying to advance his prospects with the incumbent administration, navigating toward the hoped-for moment when he will be invited back into a position of power and acclaim. For Indyk, this job has been particularly challenging: In 2008, he supported Hillary Clinton, while his colleague Dennis Ross backed Obama. Ross got an administration job; Indyk stayed at Brookings.
Thus Indyk became a cheerleader for nearly every first-term mistake Obama made in the peace process, right until the moment it became safe to criticize those mistakes. Kerry was famously for the Iraq war before he was against it; Indyk was for the administration’s policies before he was against them, which was before he took a job in the administration so that he could be for them again.
Consider some examples of Indyk’s having it opposite ways:
At yesterday’s press conference, he quoted from Obama’s recent speech in Jerusalem that “peace is necessary, peace is just, and peace is possible” – and added, “I couldn’t agree more with President Obama. It’s been my conviction for 40 years that peace is possible.” Yet in an interview just last year on Israeli radio, Indyk was asked whether peace was possible. “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,” he replied. “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.”
The single most astonishing example of Indyk’s opportunism is the settlement freeze that Obama demanded of Israel as a precondition for talks, today widely acknowledged – including by Obama and Indyk – as having been counterproductive. In 2009, Indyk endorsed Obama’s demand for the freeze as the only way to get the Palestinians into talks:
There's one Israeli action that may help move things forward, and Obama was not shy in bringing it up at the press conference: Israel's Road Map obligation to stop settlements. A real settlements freeze, and the dismantlement of unauthorised settlement outposts (another Road Map obligation), would give Palestinians renewed hope in negotiations…if Netanyahu were willing to fulfil that commitment, Obama might be able to persuade the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs to reciprocate by normalising relations with Israel.