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What Does Martin Indyk Believe?

6:25 PM, Jul 30, 2013 • By NOAH POLLAK
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In an April 2010 op-ed for the New York Times, shortly after Obama used an ill-timed settlement announcement during Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel as casus belli for open political warfare on Netanyahu, Indyk castigated the prime minister for his failure to immediately submit to Obama’s demand for a freeze on Jewish construction in East Jerusalem:

Netanyahu explained that his presence at the summit would have prompted some leaders to focus attention on Israel’s nuclear program. But one suspects the real reason for his conspicuous absence was that he does not have an answer to President Obama’s demand that he freeze new building announcements in East Jerusalem for a few months to give peace negotiations with the Palestinians a chance to take off. 

At no point during the period in which the administration made an obsession out of settlements did Indyk go on record uttering a word of caution or criticism about such an approach. Yet today, he is full of wise criticism. In his 2012 book Bending History, his criticism of Obama on these issues is scathing. Obama’s approach – the approach Indyk fully endorsed when it mattered – “created a deeply problematic context for the showdown that Obama sought over Israeli settlement activity.” The large number of Israelis living in settlements, Indyk noted, “render[s] a total freeze unrealistic.” He continues: “In demanding a complete settlements freeze, Obama failed to make any distinction, thereby implying that building in east Jerusalem had to cease, too, and inadvertently encouraging the Palestinians to insist on that.” Indyk titled an entire section of the book “The Settlements Freeze Fiasco,” concluding that “Seven months of U.S. diplomatic effort had been wasted and Obama’s credibility damaged for no good purpose.” 

In a 2012 interview in Israel, he elaborated further: “[Obama] put Abu Mazen in an impossible position: he couldn’t have agreed for less than what Obama had demanded. Obama, Abu Mazen complained, put me on a high horse. I have no way to get off it.”

After years of encouraging Obama to treat Netanyahu harshly and pressure Israel for concessions when such advice was exactly what Obama wanted to hear, Indyk criticized Obama for doing exactly what he had recommended – only, of course, after it was safe to do so.

The same pattern of flattery and then criticism is on display in Indyk’s treatment of Obama’s grandiose 2009 “Speech to the Muslim World,” delivered in Cairo. After the speech, Indyk was of course lavish in his praise:

President Obama, by his decision to start the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, to try to close Guantanamo Bay, to reach out to the Muslim world in this initiative of which the Cairo speech in June was the best example. All of those things I think helped to change the image of the United States and the president of the United States quite dramatically. 

Fast-forward to the summer of 2012 and it turns out he thought the whole thing was a bad idea – and not just in retrospect, but at the time:

After the speech, I spoke to Obama’s close advisers, Ram [sic] Emanuel and David Axelrod. I told them that the Israelis took the speech badly. The comparison between the Holocaust and Palestinian suffering infuriated them. The fact that Obama chose to speak in Cairo but not visit Jerusalem hurt their honor. The two looked at each other in silence, as if to say, we knew it would happen, we warned him but he refused to listen. 

In late 2010, sorting through the wreckage of the Cairo speech and the settlement freeze, Indyk discovered a new idea to get behind, one he was certain would get the peace process back on track – just as certain as he’d been about the settlement freeze.

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