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The nine-month term for Israeli – Palestinian peace talks expired on April 29 with no results, and with both parties unable to agree on extending negotiations. As the prospects for achieving an agreement faded, both parties pointed fingers at the United States, and to Indyk in particular, as the party responsible for the failure.
Yediot’s May 2 extensive interview with unnamed American officials by leading Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea, reported that one of those officials put the burden of failure mainly on Israel and on its decision to issue new building tenders for West Bank settlements even as negotiations were ongoing. “People in Israel shouldn’t ignore the bitter truth,” this official told the columnist. “The primary sabotage came from the settlements.”
Indyk was widely seen as one of the sources for Barnea’s exclusive because of his well-known close relationship with the columnist over many years. The State Department did not deny any of the accusations in Barnea’s story.
Israeli officials grew increasingly angry at Indyk following the publication of Barnea’s article even as the special envoy took to the stage at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the think tank he founded nearly three decades ago, to provide an authoritative public account of the failed negotiations.
In his prepared speech, Indyk carefully divided the blame between leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah, stressing that neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas had demonstrated a sense of urgency in dealing with the conflict.
“We have spoken publicly about unhelpful Israeli steps that combined to undermine the negotiations,” Indyk said, “But it is important to be clear: We view steps the Palestinians took during the negotiations as unhelpful too.”
Still, Indyk maintained his critical approach to Israel’s settlement expansion, warning that it “may well drive Israel into an irreversible binational reality.” Then, in unscripted answers to questions presented to him following the speech, Indyk ratcheted up his criticism of Israel, accusing proponents of settlements within the government of “sabotaging” the negotiations.
Indyk’s prepared remarks were “detailed, impassioned and painstakingly evenhanded,” wrote Robert Satloff, the institute’s executive director in a later analysis of the speech. But in his off-the-cuff remarks afterward, Satloff said, “the brunt of criticism fell on the architects of Israeli settlement activity.”