Martin Indyk on the Peace Process: Hoping Against Hope

A commenter on my last post asked me what I thought of Martin Indyk’s recent NY Times op-ed, in which he expresses a powerful optimism about the upcoming I/P peace talks in Washington.

My answer?  Indyk’s article represents a picture-perfect example of the inherent inequity of the peace process as it is currently defined.

In his op-ed, Indyk lists four factors that he believes distinguish this round of direct talk from previous attempts. Number one, he claims that “violence is down considerably in the region.” Thanks to the PA’s security measures in the West Bank and Hamas’ in Gaza, Indyk explains, Palestinian violence against Israelis has decreased considerably.

His analysis, however, completely leaves out the other side of the equation: Israel’s violence against Palestinians, which remains as brutal and oppressive as ever. The examples are legion: Israel’s military assault in Gaza in 2008/09 that left 1,400 dead, the structural violence of its ongoing blockade of Gaza, which is having a devastating effect on Gaza’s economy, health care system, infrastructure and Gazans’ freedom of movement. In the West Bank, the IDF continues its armed crackdown on weekly non-violent protests and has increased its arrests and incarceration of non-violent Palestinian leaders.  Home evictions and demolitions continue throughout the territories, East Jerusalem and even in Israel proper.

Indyk’s myopia on this front is fascinating. Indeed, it offers an important window into a fundamental injustice that currently pervades the peace process – a process where only Palestinian violence against Israelis is considered germane to negotiations. It might reasonably be asked: is this process about delineating the terms of a equitable peace treaty or dictating the terms of a Palestinian surrender?

Indyk’s second factor: Israel’s “settlement activity has slowed down considerably.” To demonstrate his claim he quotes from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, which reports that

(No) new housing starts in the West Bank were reported…in the first quarter of this year. What’s more, there have been hardly any new housing projects in East Jerusalem since the brouhaha in March, when Vice President Joe Biden, during a visit to Israel, condemned the announcement of 1,600 additional residential units. The demolition of Palestinian houses there is also down compared with recent years.

It is a clear sign of Indyk’s abiding prejudice that he turns to the Israeli government for an accurate report of facts on the ground. I’d suggest a more trustworthy source: namely, Peace Now, who has been indefatigably tracking Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank.

According to its most recent report:

(On) the ground, there is almost no freeze or even a visible slowdown, despite the fact that legal construction starts have been frozen for 8 months (and) that the Government of Israel is not enforcing the moratorium.

The report’s main findings:

• At least 600 housing units have started to be built during the freeze, in over 60 different settlements.

• At least 492 of those housing units are in direct violation of the law of the freeze.

• During an average year (when there is no freeze) approximately 1,130 housing units start to be built in 8 months in the settlements. The new construction starts during the moratorium constitute approximately half of the normal construction pace in the settlements.

• Some 2,000 housing units are currently under construction in the settlements, most of them started before the freeze was announced in November 2009.

This means that on the ground, there is almost no freeze or even a visible slowdown, despite the fact that legal construction starts have been frozen for 8 months.  It also means that the Government of Israel is not enforcing the moratorium.

In short? Indyk’s claim is misleading and spurious. Palestinians have been reasonably concerned about entering into direct talks while Israel’s settlement activity is ongoing.  As things currently stand, the “freeze” is slated to be lifted next month – precisely the same time talks in Washington are scheduled to commence.

For factors three and four, Indyk points out that a majority of the public on both sides support a two-state solution – and that there really isn’t that much left to negotiate anyway.  He blames Arafat exclusively for the breakdown of Camp David in 2000, a failure that left “Palestinians and Israelis mired in conflict.” This is, of course, the conventional Israeli narrative regarding the failure of Camp David: the Israelis made a generous offer, the Palestinians spurned it, and the Second Intifada ensued.

This is a simplistic, one-sided narrative that has long been challenged by compelling accounts of the actual negotiations.  Most famously, this narrative asserts that Israel was prepared to offer 96% of the Occupied Territories to the Palestinians. It has since been pointed out that this 96% number more accurately represented the percentage of the land over which Israel was prepared to negotiate. It did not include, among other things, East Jerusalem, the huge belt of Jewish settlements around the city or a ten mile wide military buffer zone around the Palestinian territories. In fact, after factoring in an obligation to lease back settlements to Israel for twenty five years, the total Palestinian land from which Israel was prepared to withdraw actually came to approximately 46%.

Regardless of which narrative we choose to believe, it is clear that ten years after Camp David many difficult complicated issues remain unaddressed. In the meantime, Israel has continued to expand its settlement regime across Palestinian territories, which likely means the amount of land from which it is prepared to withdraw has shrunk all the more. Under these circumstances, Indyk has little cause to treat the current round of negotiations as pro-forma.

Albert Einstein once famously remarked that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time.” For the past twenty years the peace process has been defined by the same basic – and one-sided – parameters. Each time the process has been rebooted, we’ve heard the same kinds of hopeful tropes that Indyk expresses here. Each time we’ve been told that we have an unprecedented opportunity for peace. Each time we’ve been told that those who criticize the process are the “enemies of hope.” But each time, this flawed political process has brought us no further along toward a viable two-state solution.

Perhaps it is time to envision a different process. One that takes values of justice and equity as seriously as it does peace. One in which the United States acts as a truly honest broker, in which Israel is held to account for its violence against Palestinians, for its oppressive policies and its ongoing settlement of the occupied territories. Then, and only then, will there truly be, as Indyk puts it, “hope in the Middle East.”

16 thoughts on “Martin Indyk on the Peace Process: Hoping Against Hope

  1. What a great response to Indyk’s “optimism” based purely on Israel’s interests and vision. I hope that we are wrong and that Obama will expend the political capital necessary to force real concessions by Israel, starting with the most fundamental: an immediate and complete end to all settlement activity. It is nothing less than a moral scandal that Israel has continued to promote the “peace process” while it steals Palestinian land and builds settlements.

    Like you, I have very little faith in this “peace process” and agree with Henry Siegman who several years ago called the peace process a “scam”. We, liberal Jews, understandably want to believe, against all odds, that Isrsel is serious about a two state solution. It helps us avoid the painful contradiction between our vision of Israel and the reality. Despite our fantasy of Isreal’s intentions, it seems that Israel’s wants to replicate the situation in Gaza on the West Bank i.e. maximum Isrseli control (control of airspace, water, movement of people and other key resources) with minimum responsibility. The Palestinians on the West Bank will be confined to half or less of the West Bank, probably in three separate cantons, surrounded by Jewish settlement and Israel will absolve itself of any responsibility for the inhabitants of this new independent Palestinian “state”. The never ending “peace process” helps us to avoid the injustice on the ground as Israel consolidates its hold over ever more Palestinian territory. As Siegman pointed out this is the goal of the “peace process” from Israel’s point of view. It is not about peace it is a scam that enables the expansion of the Occupation and the continued dispossession of the Palestinian people.

    The only thing that may change the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinians is pressure from the outside, either from governments or civil society. I hope Obama intends to apply real pressure and to advocate for a just solution. His track record so far is less than stellar. I fear that this new round of talks is the next round in the “scam”.

    • Dear Rabbi Walt, it IS a scam, and has been since the very beginning. The vaunted Oslo Accords were really nothing more than a pretty transparent device to allow Israel to buy time to expand and strengthen its hold on the Occupied Palestinian Territories. That was transparent immediately, at least for some of us, and that is certainly the way it turned out.

      For one interesting alternate view of Oslo I suggest Hanan Ashrawi’s book This Side of Peace.

  2. I was disappointed in this post, as I commented at Mondoweiss.

    Your last post was actually hopeful, reflecting our obligation to pursue peace in earnest, as well as in formality.

    This post, ending with the Einstein quote about addiction, seemed to me to be stating “give up, there is no hope, not in the immediate future, and not in the distant future”.

    I found that sentiment, especially stated as your last word, to be ultimately discouraging.

  3. While I’m not altogether comfortable posting here, I did want to respond to Brian’s comment about liberal Jews.

    I am not Jewish, but consider myself progressive. The I/P issue is not a main issue for me (the Iraq sanctions and later Iraq invasion were main issues for me), but I feel I’m pretty well informed, and know people who are very involved and travel to the West Bank, particularly Gaza.

    The reason I found this website is because I am in an in-depth conversation with an old friend, from nearly 40 years ago, a Jewish-American who had become more conservative as I had become more progressive over decades. The conversation started because of some comments he made, and I began engaging him in conversation and sending him articles, particularly about Israelis and Israeli human rights groups that I admire and support. In a relatively short time, this center-right, older Jewish-American man has been both deeply moved and seriously troubled by what he has learned, and I feel it’s fair to say that he has had an epiphany regarding Palestinians, the occupation, the settler movement, and Israel’s behavior. He has commented, “I just didn’t know.” And as far as I know, he is still center right.

    My point is that maybe liberals should not believe that only those with the same political leanings can be engaged in dialogue. My recent experience has convinced me otherwise. The important thing is to approach anyone kindly and respectfully. And it’s so important to share information – how can anyone be expected to form good opinions without it?

    And I apologize for the length of this comment.

  4. No, Rabbi, Einstein didn’t say that. It is widely misattributed to Einstein. Actual author is probably Rita Mae Brown, who produced the earliest known example in print:

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” Sudden Death (Bantam Books, New York, 1983), p. 68.

    I hope you are more careful about your other “facts” than you are about your quotations.

    As to peace. As long as the Palestinians insist on the “right” or return, there can never be peace. I’ve said that to a lot of Palestinian supporters, none have been able to refute it. I get a lot of blather about how it is their right (it isn’t), or that international law requires it (it doesn’t), but not one of them could come up with a realistic scenario for peace in which the Palestinians didn’t give up the right of return. Their best was that the Israelis would let them return, and the Palestinians, after taking over Israel would act toward the Israelis with fairness and equality. A manner completely at odds with how the Palestinians act toward each other and how all Muslim counties act to their minorities.

    • Bob,

      The tone of your comment–smug, triumphant, glib–brings something into focus for me this Elul.

      Setting aside issues of international law for a moment, the Palestinian “right of return” is about a whole lot of people who wanted to go home, mostly to homes that don’t exist any more. Now it’s also about their children and grandchildren, who are also people.

      And you’re making fun of them.

      In the Judaism I know first hand, here in the US, a new commandment, never explicitly articulated, has made its way into our hearts. Right there beside “love the stranger, because you were strangers in Egypt” I’ve been taught–in Hebrew school, in youth group, in summer camp, in ‘Israel advocacy’ training–something else as well.

      Put into words, it sounds like this: “Mock the Palestinians, because you were driven out of Spain, Europe, Egypt, Iraq, etc., and you never whined about a ‘right of return,’ now, did you?”

      Mock their arguments, mock their supporters, mock their stories. They’re nothing but “blather,” and deserve a sneer.

      Look, I don’t like kids being murdered on buses and pizza stands, or old folks blown up at Seder. I despise the glorification of armed struggle. I remember the old demands that every Jew not born in mandatory Palestine should leave, and I’ve read all too many poems and speeches that say the Zionist invader has no real connection (historical or emotional) to the land.

      But this self-congratulatory obligation to make light of other people’s suffering doesn’t do much for me, either. Especially as a core _religious_ belief, as central as the v’ahavta. It’s sour, small-minded, and cruel. Why on earth would I would want to that to teach my children, or bring them up in a community that espouses it?

      Thanks for clarifying all this for me. Useful comment.

      • I’m still waiting for Rabbi Brant’s response to my contention that he is conveying the futility of seeking peace, rather than wholeheartedly endorsing it, risks and all.

    • Bob:

      The right to return which is afforded to all is covered under international law as follows:

      To gain UN membership, Israel formally areed to the UN GA Resolution 194 in regard to refugees and to the Partition Plan, Resolution 181. They also signed the Lausanne Protocol in 1949 thereby reaffirming their acceptance of 184 and 181. Their whole membership in the UN is contingent upon upholding Resolution 181 and 194.

      The Partition plan, 181 “provides that the Arab inhabitants of the Jewish state shall be protected in their rights and property”. Further, their own Declaration of Independence provides that “the state of Israel will be ready to cooperate with the organs and representatives of the United Nations in the implementation of the resolution of the Assembly of November 29, 1947 [the Partition Plan], and will take steps to bring about the economic union over the whole of Palestine.”

      Resolution 194 (again, which Israel recognized in order to gain UN membership states “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible….”

      Chapter 42 of the Magna Carta: “It shall be lawful in the future for anyone…to leave our kingdom and to return, safe and secure by land and water…”

      Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 13, (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

      Under the 4th Geneva Convention (12 August 1949), Article 49 states “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive” and Israel ratified the 1948 Geneva conventions in 1951.

  5. Richard,

    If I gave the impression that I find the pursuit of seeking peace to be futile, then either you misunderstood my point or else I didn’t articulate it well enough (or maybe both.)

    I think it is essential to take risks for peace. I consider seeking peace to be a sacrosanct value. I will always oppose those who surrender to an eternity of war and conflict as the status quo. But there are effective and less effective ways to achieve peace – and I am arguing that the foundation upon which the I/P peace process has been built for the past 20 years is an inequitable and ineffective one.

    I believe introducing a measure of equity and justice into the process will ultimately yield more successful results than the current method, which simply seeks to formalize inequity. It is critical to remain hopeful for the future. But I cannot endorse a process that I believe is predicated upon false hope.

    Like you, I believe we have an “obligation to pursue peace in earnest, as well as in formality.” It is my sincere hope that we will live to see such a peace in our own lifetime.

    • You write that it is essential to take risks for peace. Well, the Israelis did just that by lifting roadblocks to make life for Palestinians easier. And death of Israelis easier. It is easy for you to suggest taking risks for peace when you won’t suffer the consequences of those actions. But, this evening, four people were killed. I understand one couple left behind seven children. Seven orphans. But are you going to write a post about Hamas issuing congratulatory statements about the attack?
      Move to Israel and you can prevail upon the government to risk security for the elusive peace.

      • Hamas’ attack was heinous and barbaric and does nothing to further the cause of a just peace. While I do not live in Israel, I do believe like many others inside and outside of Israel, that these kinds of actions only demonstrate that the status quo is untenable, that the stakes are high – and that yes, both sides will indeed have to take risks to achieve peace.

        For one well-articulated reaction to yesterday’s events in Hevron, read this post by blogger Mitchell Plitnick. (I recommend reading through the comments as well.)

  6. Indyk plays his game.

    Martin Indyk, two time US ambassador in Israel and Bibis pal, had his share in spoiling the Israeli – Syria talks as well as the Camp David talks in 2000.

    In 98 he said in an interview with AIPAC looking at near east negotiations that “evenhandedness is not in our lexicon” and that he is “a true Zionist” (cit. truth about Campd David, Clayton Swisher, p. 37)

    So what do you expect?
    Of course he is oberly optimistic. If the talks fail – and they will absolutely fail – he easily puts the blame on the palestinians.

    So just keep in mind: Indyk ist just a politician with his own agenda, he’s definitly not a neutral analyst.

  7. Brant,
    I was reading a reply to Martin Indyk’s NYT piece by Robert Grenier, http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2010/09/201094155358615769.html and wanted to add my voice to the worlds citizenry opposed to such a deliberate obfuscation of reality. Thus, coming upon your blog brings a feeling of hope to my being, a belief that we do not have to keep doing business as usual and that truth can in its most powerful equitable ways intrude upon the design servants of power.

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