Martin Indyk Brings Baggage to Mideast Talks — and That's the Point

Mediator Has Pro-Israel Ties — But Has Rattled Netanyahu

Mediating From Strength: Martin Indyk has earned a reputation for being blunt and wearing his beliefs on his sleeve. Could that be just what the nascent Mideast talks need?
getty images
Mediating From Strength: Martin Indyk has earned a reputation for being blunt and wearing his beliefs on his sleeve. Could that be just what the nascent Mideast talks need?

By Nathan Guttman

Published July 30, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Cell phone to his ear and a pile of papers under his arm, Martin Indyk rushed to the elevator at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel.

It has been only three hours since secretary of state John Kerry announced the appointment of Indyk as his special envoy for the Mideast peace process and the veteran negotiator was already shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian delegations, making sure there were no last minute bumps on the road to resuming peace talks later that day.

As the Middle East peace process’s newly crowned top negotiator, Indyk, 62, who was born in Britain, grew up in Australia and spent his adult life in the United States, will have to straddle not only national identities but also perceived allegiances.

He had often said, especially when speaking to Jewish audiences, that he was first drawn to the Middle East “through my Jewish identity and my connection to Israel.” In his acceptance speech at the State Department on Monday Indyk also made mention, as he has done many times in the past, of the time he spent as a student in Jerusalem during the 1973 war and how that experience has led him to get involved in the region.

But while Indyk’s strong personal ties to Israel and to the Jewish community have been used at times as ammunition by Palestinians who view him as being too easy on the Israelis, they have not shielded Washington’s two-term ambassador to Tel Aviv from critical voices on the Israeli side.

Indyk, said former colleague at the State Department Middle East team Robert Danin, “can be very direct and very blunt.” It’s a quality Danin believes allows the new negotiator to “cause some discomfort for both sides, which is something they need at times.”

This discomfort evoked strong reactions about Indyk in Israel. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, on the one hand, was so appreciative of Indyk’s work on the peace process that in an unusual move he asked President Clinton to appoint Indyk as ambassador in Israel once again. On the other hand, Benjamin Netanyahu, when first elected prime minister in 1996, sent word to Washington that he’d like to see Indyk replaced because he was seen as too close to leaders of the Labor party.

Martin Indyk’s life story is closely intertwined with that of the pro-Israel community and with Israel itself. He started off his career in America as a research analyst with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a biographical fact that is still being used by Indyk’s critics as a proof of his pro-Israeli government bias. But there are other aspects of his biography. In recent years, Indyk sat on the board of the New Israel Fund, a pro-Israel organization that supports liberal causes within Israel proper and opposes Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In his policy work outside government, Indyk was one of the early founders of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel Washington think tank. Later, he worked on issues relating to Israel and its neighbors as head of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center, which was established with funding from Haim Saban, an Israeli-born media mogul and major Democratic Party funder.

“He’s not a peacenik and he’s also not a Likudnik,” said an Israeli official who worked closely with Indyk in the past two decades. “He is a mainstream two-state solution guy.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.