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What Does Martin Indyk Believe?

6:25 PM, Jul 30, 2013 • By NOAH POLLAK
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In a December 2010 op-ed, days after the administration formally abandoned its settlements-centric approach, Indyk offered the self-incriminating observation that “Twenty months of US efforts to freeze Israeli settlement activity to create a conducive environment for negotiations have produced only deadlock.” His new suggestion: “‘It’s the borders, stupid’ should be the mantra” for the administration. The “borders” he was talking about are in fact the 1949 armistice lines, also called the 1967 lines, to which many advocates for the Palestinians think Israel should withdraw. “Mr Obama should pronounce [the 1967 lines] as the American position,” Indyk recommended.

Obama did just that. Six months later he delivered a speech that attempted to dislodge the peace process from the settlements deadlock by endorsing the 1967 lines as the starting point for future negotiations. Such a declaration, Indyk had predicted in his op-ed, would help “jump-start” and possibly even “turbo-charge” talks. As we know, Obama’s endorsement of yet another Palestinian position had the opposite effect: it angered the Israelis and ensured that Netanyahu’s visit to Washington – he was arriving the very next day – would play out as one of the most acrimonious moments in the history of U.S.-Israel relations.

Then there’s the “Syria track” of the peace process, in which Israel would surrender the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace treaty with the Assad regime that would also “flip” Syria to the pro-western group of Arab states. In 2006, after 15 years of failure to convince Assad of the benefits of this arrangement, Indyk admitted that it was a useless pursuit. In an interview with Haaretz he said:

Look, I was personally involved in trying to achieve a peace treaty between Israel and Syria during eight years of the Clinton Administration. I personally argued throughout that period that the U.S. needed to give priority to a Syrian-Israeli deal, because it had obvious strategic benefits…But I don't feel the same way now…as a matter of strategy I think it's a mistake…Syria is allied with Iran, for good reasons of strategy, from their point of view. And the notion that you can somehow split them is, I think, fanciful.

Yet three years later, in May 2009, Indyk was back on the Syria track, writing that “A peace deal with Syria would hold out considerable advantage to Netanyahu and Obama because it would cut Iran's conduit of arms and financial support to Hezbollah and Hamas.”

The next year, he went even further: “Today, nothing could better help Obama to isolate Iran than for Netanyahu to offer to cede the Golan, as four other Israeli prime ministers have, in exchange for peace with Syria, which serves as the conduit for Tehran’s troublemaking in the Arab-Israeli arena.”

Between 2006 and 2009, no relevant facts on the ground in the Middle East had changed: Iran was still pursuing nuclear weapons, Bashar al-Assad was still the dictator of Syria, and Hezbollah was still entrenched in Lebanon. Only one fact had changed, and it was a Washington fact: Barack Obama had become the president, and he had made “engagement” with Syria a pillar of his Middle East policy. Indyk dutifully discarded his previous objections to the idea. 

Give him his due: His shameless positioning and audacious reversals have been successful where they were intended to count – not in making “the cause of peace his life mission,” as Kerry said about him yesterday, but in advancing his career. Step one was showing his loyalty to Obama after betting on the wrong candidate in 2008; step two was burnishing his image as a tough-minded veteran of the Middle East who understands why things went wrong in Obama’s first term and can be counted on to get it right in his second term. On the substance, it’s been an awful, tawdry display. But as a matter of Washington careerism, Indyk’s press conference yesterday, where he was introduced and praised by the secretary of state, is inarguable proof of success.

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