How Martin Indyk Went From AIPAC Man To Blaming Israel for Talk's Failure

Mediator Frustrated by 9 Months of Stalemate and Settlements

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By Nathan Guttman

Published May 14, 2014, issue of May 23, 2014.

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Ross, who has been in Indyk’s shoes himself many times in the past, said that Indyk had “explained away” Abbas’ role in “shutting down” the talks by highlighting the role of Israel’s settlements in leading Abbas to withdraw.

Ross parted ways with Indyk on this. “I would stress the shutting down” by Abbas, Ross said.

Israelis forcefully rejected the notion that Netanyahu carried most of the blame. “It is simplistic and wrong,” said Michael Herzog, a member of the Israeli negotiation team. “The American side has made very significant mistakes during these nine months and it would be wise for them to examine themselves too,” he said.

An administration official argued that Indyk “spoke out of genuine commitment” to Israel. Indyk, the official said “has a 35-year record of working toward peace, because peace is the best way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish state and a strong U.S.-Israel relationship is the best way to achieve that peace.”

This 35-year record began at the heart of the pro-Israel establishment in Washington. Steve Rosen, a former senior official with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful Washington lobby, had mentored Indyk at the Australian National University, and then invited him to move to Washington and run the lobby’s regular publication, Near East Report. Shortly after, Rosen recommended Indyk as the first director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank founded by AIPAC supporters.

“This is a guy who had read every book ever published with the word ‘Israel’ in its title,” Rosen said of his protégé. Indyk, he noted, had both exceptional analytical capabilities, and “great diplomatic skills.”

These same skills impressed Bill Clinton when Indyk was among those who briefed him on Israel in the early stages of his 1992 presidential campaign. This led eventually to Clinton choosing the young analyst as his chief Middle East adviser upon taking office.

Indyk’s diplomatic skills also helped him avoid clashes at AIPAC and at the Washington Institute. Both organizations have been known for their strongly pro-Israel and at times hawkish boards, which differed from Indyk’s own more dovish, anti-settlement views.

“Martin is a politician and understands the institutional context,” Rosen said of the envoy’s early years with the pro-Israel groups, “so he probably pulled his punches at that time.”

During the Clinton administration, in which he served twice as ambassador to Tel-Aviv, Indyk’s strong belief in Israeli–Palestinian reconciliation found fertile ground with the new president’s interest in the region and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s willingness to move ahead in a historic peace process. Indyk was close to Rabin and was among those waiting at the Tel Aviv hospital the night Rabin was assassinated in 1995.

When Netanyahu took office in 1996 tensions rose, especially after the 1998 Wye River negotiations, in which Indyk thought the Israeli leader was not forthcoming. “I don’t think there are many people around who hadn’t heard from Martin a tirade about Netanyahu,” said Rosen.

Still, Indyk’s constant ups and downs with Israeli leaders did not hinder Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to appoint him as chief U.S. mediator for the long running peace process as it reached its final stage.

With negotiations now seemingly terminated, Indyk’s future plans are unclear. The State Department has stressed he is not stepping down yet. But his choice to call out those responsible, even at the risk of being painted as unfriendly to Israel, could indicate that Indyk has already made up his mind to leave.

Though unsuccessful in his latest effort, Indyk will not necessarily suffer a blemish on his resume.

“No one ever gets blamed for failure in something that is mission impossible to start with,” said Aaron Miller, a former State Department peace negotiator.

Contact Nathan Guttman at or on Twitter @nathanguttman

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