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An honest rendering of the Middle East conflict?
by Dr. Habib Siddiqui
2009-07-31 09:49:56
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Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East
Written by Martin Indyk
2009, Simon & Schuster

Books written by diplomats are usually very helpful to understand views of the governments that they represented. Martin Indyk’s book is an attempt to provide such an account of his diplomatic mission in the Middle East where he was the U.S. Ambassador to Israel from April 1995 to September 1997 and from January 2000 to July 2001, coinciding with the Clinton and (first six months of the) Bush administrations. Before that he was Clinton’s Middle East adviser on the National Security Council (NSC) and an Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs in the State Department. Prior to his Federal government appointment, as an ardent Zionist, Indyk visited Israel a few times, including being a volunteer in a kibbutz during the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

In 1978 he served as Australia’s deputy director of current intelligence for the Middle East for ten months. In 1982, after coming to the USA, he became the deputy research director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington. From 1985 to 1993, he served as the founding Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Israel research institute, which was founded by AIPAC. He was a senior member of Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s Middle East peace team and served as the White House representative on the U.S. Israel Science and Technology Commission. He is currently the director of the pro-Israeli Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Indyk’s appointment in the NSC and as a diplomat to Israel is rather incredible considering the fact that he was born in the UK, educated in Australia and only became a U.S. citizen in 1993, just about a week before his NSC appointment. To qualify for such federal jobs as naturalized citizens one usually has to go through a very lengthy process requiring background check and security clearance at the highest level. Only his Jewish, pro-Israel lobbyist credential made the difference with the Clinton administration hastening the process of getting Indyk the U.S. citizenship by overriding such lengthy time-consuming requirements.

With that kind of professional background, a reader does not have to dig deep to discover Indyk’s deplorable pro-Israel bias and one-sided castigation of ‘bad guys’ – all reserved for the Muslim leaders of the Middle East – in his lengthy book of 494 pages. His description of the courtiers of the Moroccan King Hassan in page 46 is unbecoming of a diplomat. He recalls his encounter with Yaser Arafat in 1994 after the Hebron massacre of unarmed Muslims in the Ibrahimi masjid by a Jewish terrorist Dr. Baruch Goldstein as “signature theatrical performance, one part conspiratorial, one part paranoid, one part plaintive victimhood, and one part pure mythology.” (p. 112) In contrast, he has all the praises for Israeli leaders. For instance, he depicts Rabin as having a penchant for analysis, resembling a scientist who tried to test his hypothesis that he developed. It is quite fascinating that in a recent interview with two Israeli reporters (reported in the Yediot Achronoth), he now sounds a little bit more balanced: “We failed, among other reasons, because President Clinton did his best to meet the wishes of your prime ministers.”

Indyk recounts America’s failed Middle East diplomacy in three parts. In the first part it is about the "dual containment" policy, which was announced in May 1993 by Indyk himself, and where else, in a WINEP meeting. That policy was about containing both Iraq and Iran at the same time. The second part deals with the fate of that policy. The third part chronicles downward spiral of violence following Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination to Arafat’s rejection of Clinton’s parameters for an Israeli-Palestinian final settlement put forth in the last days of Clinton’s presidency. The last two chapters deal with the reflections of a failed diplomat providing suggestions for effective diplomacy. In that sense, a keen observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may save time by skipping the first 19 chapters and jump into the last two.

As an inside player of failed Middle East diplomacy, Indyk shares Clinton’s rage in name-calling Arafat. According to Clinton, Arafat had failed his people and destroyed the chances of peace. (p. 14) As we know better from other reliable accounts, including President Carter’s book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, Clinton and Indyk are not reliable here. We were told that Palestinians rejected a “generous offer” put forward by Prime Minister Barak with Israel keeping only 5% of West Bank. The fact is, as Carter disclosed, “no such offers were ever made.” (Carter, p. 152)

Indyk is disingenuously silent about Israel’s expansionist policy that saw rapid rise of settlement activities during Clinton Administration, the same time, he was ambassador there.  A major settlement between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, previously halted during the Bush Sr. administration, because threat of cutting aid to Israel, was rapidly completed during the Clinton era. (Carter, p. 132) As Carter noted, during the Clinton-era there was a 90% growth in the number of settlers in the occupied territories, with the greatest increase during the Labor government of Ehud Barak. By the end of the year 2000, Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza numbered 225,000. The best offer to the Palestinians – by Clinton, not Barak – had been to withdraw 20% of the settlers, leaving more than 180,000 in 209 settlements, covering about 10% of the occupied land, including land to be “leased” and portions of the Jordan River valley and East Jerusalem. (Carter, pp. 150-151)

According to Carter, “The percentage figure is misleading, since it usually includes only the actual footprints of the settlements. There is a zone with a radius of about four hundred meters around each settlement within which Palestinians cannot enter. In addition, there are other large areas that would have been taken or earmarked to be used exclusively by Israel, roadways that connect the settlements to one another and to Jerusalem, and “life arteries” that provide the settlers with water, sewage, electricity, and communications. These range in width from 500 to 4000 meters, and Palestinians cannot use or cross many of these connecting links. This honeycomb of settlements and their interconnecting conduits effectively divide the West Bank into at least two noncontiguous areas and multiply fragments, often uninhabitable or even unreachable, and control of the Jordan River valley denies Palestinians any direct access eastward into Jordan. About 100 military checkpoints completely surround Palestine and block routes going into or between Palestinian communities, combined with an uncountable number of other roads that are permanently closed with larger concrete cubes or mounds of earth and rocks. There was no possibility that any Palestinian leader could accept such terms and survive, but official statements from Washington and Jerusalem were successful in placing the entire onus for the failure on Yasir Arafat.” (Carter, pp. 151-2)

In page 54, Indyk erroneously says that King Faisal was assassinated by Wahabi religious fanatic. Fact is: the king was shot and killed by his own nephew Faisal bin Musa’id. Popular belief in Saudi Arabia is that the assassin was a pawn in a Western conspiracy to assassinate King Faisal for the latter’s oil embargo and devotion to the cause of Islam and Palestine. Ibn Musa’id’s American girlfriend was believed to have incited him to commit the murder.

In page 75, Indyk says the Israel’s 1982 Lebanon invasion was provoked by “Arafat’s terrorist activities.” However, fact is that Israel decided to launch the military operation after the assassination attempt against Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Shlomo Argov, by the Abu Nidal Organization. The latter’s mercenary organization was opposed to Arafat’s PLO. As noted by CATO Institute’s Sheldon L. Richman one of the major reasons for the Israeli invasion was "the discrediting and destruction of the PLO, which, by June 1982, had observed its cease-fire with Israel for about a year and had been pursuing a diplomatic strategy." The Lebanon has been a part of Zionist annexation plans since the birth of Israel which regarded the Litany River to its north as its natural boundary.

The book is full of such examples of reversing cause and effects by trying to deliberately put the onus of all the troubles on the Arabs while excusing Israeli atrocities and crimes that initiate and catalyze violence, which are major contributing factors for America’s failures in diplomacy. In a January 8, 2009 (coinciding with the last days of Bush) debate with Norman Finkelstein (a prolific author and American Political scientist) in Democracy Now, when Indyk was asked about Israeli assault in the Gaza Strip that had killed more than a thousand Palestinians, with many thousands more wounded, Indyk falsely blamed the Hamas for breaking the ceasefire with a prolonged series of rocket attacks on Israeli civilians in southern Israel. However, the fact of the matter is Israel broke the ceasefire by going into the Gaza and killing half a dozen Palestinian militants, which provoked Hamas to retaliate by firing missiles. As Finklestein pointed out, according to Ha’aretz, Defense Minister Barak began plans for that invasion in March before the ceasefire even began in June 17, 2008. This was done to defeat the peace offensive – e.g., Hamas’s readiness to accept the diplomatic settlement of the conflict along the June 1967 border. So, Israel, true to her expansionist goals, sought to dismantle Hamas and defeat their peace offensive.

Indyk’s account of the negotiations that culminated in the Camp David and Taba meetings is also wrong. He says it was the Palestinians that were blocking a settlement. The record, instead, shows that in every crucial issue raised at Camp David, then under the Clinton parameters, and then in Taba, at every single point, all the concessions came from the Palestinians. Israel didn’t make any concessions. There, as also stated by Finkelstein in his debate with Indyk, “The Palestinians repeatedly expressed a willingness to settle the conflict in accordance with international law. The law is very clear. July 2004, the highest judicial body in the world, the International Court of Justice, ruled Israel has no title to any of the West Bank and any of Gaza. They have no title to Jerusalem. Arab East Jerusalem, according to the highest judicial body in the world, is occupied Palestinian territory. The International Court of Justice ruled all the settlements, all the settlements in the West Bank, are illegal under international law.” He also noted that “on all those questions, the Palestinians were willing to make concessions. They were willing to allow Israel to keep 60 percent of the settlements, 80 percent of the settlers. They were willing to compromise on Jerusalem. They were willing to give up basically on the right of return. They made all the concessions. Israel didn’t make any concessions.”

Flawed as it is, Indyk’s book nonetheless, shares the mindset of Washington policy makers on the Middle East, and who they are. Indyk tells us that Secretary Christopher hated to dine with the Arab leaders while he cherished dinner with Rabin. Almost all the key players deciding America’s foreign relations in the Muslim world have been either pro-Israel Zionists or Jews – a fact which shouldn’t surprise anyone who had been following the State Department for years. Dennis Ross, Bush Sr.’s foreign policy adviser, was appointed by Secretary Christopher as the Special Middle East Coordinator (SMEC) with overall responsibility for the peace process. Two other prominent members in the peace team were Daniel Kurtzer who served as the deputy for the negotiations in the State Department’s Near Eastern Bureau and Aaron Miller who had worked for Dennis Ross under James Baker. After Kurtzer had left the group on policy disagreement and Ross’s appointment, Robert Malley joined the group. Sam Lewis, the ex-ambassador to Israel, became head of Christopher’s Policy Planning Staff. Like the other key players above, he, too, was Jewish.

Henry Kissinger is quoted to have said in his many shuttle trips to Damascus, “You cannot make war in the Middle East without Egypt and you cannot make peace without Syria” – a view which may not be tenable any more. Thus, it is not difficult to understand why the first chapter is called “Syria First”, which details Clinton administration’s priorities in the early stage to make a land for peace deal between Israel and Syria. Syria’s Hafez al-Asad wanted full Syrian sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

What also becomes abundantly clear is that American strategy for the region has been essentially a joint strategy with Israel. This is something Indyk himself admits to in his recent interview with two Israeli journalists Nahum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer. As to the failure of the “Syria first” policy, he says, Barak did not have the courage to make the deal. The timing was not on his side! Even back in October 1995, a few weeks before the assassination, Rabin was in Washington, when he said, according to Indyk, “he had to halt the negotiations with the Syrians, because he stood before elections.  He doubted his ability to achieve a majority for withdrawal from the Golan.”

So, unmistakably, peace in the Middle East has often been held a hostage to internal politics of Israel - the weak coalition governments that are afraid to take bold decisions and suspicious leaders that don’t trust each other and are selfish about making name at the exclusion of others. Indyk admits to this problem in his interview with Israeli reporters where he says, “All the prime ministers I knew refused to coordinate their moves with the foreign ministers.”

Indyk also admits that the relationship between the USA and Israel is an asymmetrical one in which Israeli tail often wags the American dog. (p. 89) Since the time of Eisenhower, no American president has been prepared to take a stand against the Jewish state. And when he does, he usually ends up backing down. The poor Bush sr. had to even lose his reelection bid against Clinton for standing up to Israel, a lesson his not-so-bright son took it to heart when he became President after Clinton era ended. In page 175, we are told how President Clinton felt awed and intimidated by older Rabin, and that “Clinton looked up to Rabin as a father figure.”

Indyk is not happy about Bush’s decision to disengage from the peace process, which caused deaths of some four thousands people within the first term of Bush Jr. (an eight-fold increase compared to Clinton’s last four years), mostly on the Palestinian side.  Violence totally destroyed any semblance of trust between the two sides. He says  that Bush Jr. blessed the Quartet’s Road Map for a two-state solution only as a sop to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who needed the president’s endorsement of an Israeli-Peace initiative to bolster support within his Labor Party for the Iraq War effort. (p. 381) It was a hypocritical move altogether, Bush never meant it, and as such, remained aloof from the peace process. He let the Israelis kill Palestinians like ants. And even after Arafat had died and a more moderate leader Abu Mazen emerged in the Palestinian leadership, he simply did nothing to revive the stalled peace process. Indyk says Bush considered the Islamist extremists as mortal enemies of the USA, but ironically acted as a midwife to deliver Hamas’s victory in what was a free and fair election. (pp. 382-3)

He believes that the Saudi proposal of Crown Prince Abdullah in February of 2002, which was subsequently endorsed by the Arab League, was the only positive unintended consequence of Bush’s unwillingness to engage in the peace process. He opines that Abdullah proposed this out of utter frustration with the Bush Administration to stop the bloodshed. The proposal offered Israel full recognition, normalization and an end to the conflict from the entire Arab world in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 lines. (p. 384).

As we all know, Crown Prince Fahd had a similar proposal back in 1981. The elements of the eight-point plan were loosely based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338: Israel to withdraw from 1967-captured territories, including East Jerusalem (but not the whole city), dismantling of settlements, recognition of the PLO as the Palestinian representative, establishment of an independent Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital, and secure guarantees of peace. At the Twelfth Arab Summit Conference, held in Fez, Morocco September 9, 1982, the League of Arab States adopted a version of the Fahd plan, which became known as the Fez Initiative. King Hassan of Morocco was a key supporter of the plan and its provision that implicitly recognized Israel’s right to exist. His support at Fez led to a formal visit by Israeli Prime Minister Perez in 1986. Back in 1982 there was a mood of optimism everywhere, which faded after the Israeli expansion of their incursion into southern Lebanon in mid-September 1982, which led to a temporary cooling of relations between Israel and the US. Israel rejected the Fez Initiative claiming that it made all the usual demands of Israel but did not have anything new to provide for Israel’s security.

As can be seen, Israel, true to her colonist character, has never accepted any of those peace offers. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Bush, Powell and Rice did nothing either other than paying lip service to the 2002 Arab initiative. [History will record the latter two individuals more for their lying and incompetence than diplomacy.] According to Indyk, Bush’s failure to undertake serious diplomatic engagement during his eight years has now left the USA in a very difficult situation in the Middle East. (p. 390) The geo-strategic location of the Middle East, however, makes it impossible for America to ignore the region. Besides, America has taken on the obligation to ensuring Israel’s survival, which it cannot abandon.

Indyk attributes America’s failure in diplomacy in the Middle East to her idealism which seems to generate a troubling naiveté that is part innocence, part ignorance and part arrogance. In that process, lots of false assumptions are made about Middle East and its leadership. He forgets to mention that in the last 40 plus years that piece of diplomacy, strategy and tactics were all scripted by individuals like him who were letting America’s interests come second to those of Israel. When America required them to be neutral and fair, they acted as cheer-leaders for Israeli crimes, thereby prolonging tension in the region and creating America’s own nemesis in the persons of OBL and Ayman al-Zawahiri – accused of being the 9/11 masterminds.

Indyk’s advice for future presidents is to never to give up or move into a crisis management mode but rather to pursue a more realistic approach that is modest in goal-settings with realistic assumptions. They must focus on the big picture and resist temptations to be dragged into local events. They must also use their leverage effectively. (p. 399) He opines that the most important requirements of successful diplomacy in the region are humility, flexibility and agility. (p. 396) American cannot expect the Middle Eastern leaders to follow her diktats. He says that Arab leaders have little incentive to take risks unless they feel that they can no longer abide the status quo, or circumstances have so changed that they must adjust their approach. He believes that when they decide to make peace or alter their behavior in other fundamental ways, it is because they believe their own survival is on the line and not because of the demand from the U.S. president. Indyk’s statement here is difficult to sustain for historical events like Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel, or even the peace proposals made by the Saudi Crown Princes. Indyk suggests that the American president must engage himself to enable the Middle Eastern leaders to take risk, who otherwise are often risk-averse. He suggests that appointment of a special Middle East envoy, reporting to the president through the secretary of state as the best way to organize for a presidential peace initiative.

Indyk is critical of the Palestinian leadership in its failure to compromise with the usurping Israeli leadership that didn’t want to go back to the 1967 lines. He describes Arafat as a man who lacked courage while Abu Mazen lacked capability. He forgets that a burned cow does not want to return to its barn. Through the draconian measures taken to create dysfunctional administrations within the Occupied Territories, Israeli leaders have also ensured that no Palestinian leadership is capable of leading or delivering results that are meaningful.

Indyk thinks that for a viable resolution to the conflict, Palestinians must give up their claim to a right of return to Israel and that Israelis would have to concede their claim to Arab parts of Jerusalem. For such compromises, he thinks both parties will require visionary leaders like Sadat, Begin, Rabin and Hussein (of Jordan). He forgets that the issues like the return of the Palestinian refugees and the Israeli withdrawal from all the annexed territories in 1967 are already big concessions over the original UN Partition Plan. Even then, as we noted earlier, Palestinian leaders were willing to compromise on all such vital issues.

Indyk believes that disarming Hizbullah should be a Lebanese responsibility, perhaps in the context of an Israeli-Lebanese peace negotiation that resolves the remaining minor border issues. He also believes that peace with Syria can be attained through a full Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 line. (pp. 413-5)

Innocent Abroad allows us to understand the obstacles to peace in the Middle East and how American policy has been a highly biased one, often scripted and dictated by Israel or its Zionist supporters within the U.S. State Department to protect Israeli interest. Such excessive considerations for Israel and her internal politics, sadly, have failed to find a just and balanced solution to the conflict. This book also helps us to unmask the hypocritical side of guys like Indyk whose on-duty activities as a Middle East expert or diplomat working for the U.S. government were a sharp contradiction to his after-the-fact, off-duty, introspection and retrospection of how those matters ought to have been done right.

Indyk knows that all the members of the Arab League favor a two-state settlement on the June 1967 border, and so do the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas. The one and only obstacle has been Israel, which, backed by the United States, refuses to go back to the 1967 border, to abide by international law, and to abide by the opinion of the international community. And yet, as an ardent Zionist, Indyk failed to call a spade a spade, and misdirected the U.S. peace initiative to a zero-sum result that helped to prolong occupation and misery, albeit at the cost of thousands of innocent civilians, mostly on the Palestinian side. His state department job demanded neutrality in judgment, vision in policy making and fairness in dealings. He failed in that test miserably. Even today, when he is outside the state department, his blind support for Israel is really inexcusable. More sickening is the realization that American government allows such zealots to act as its advisers on matters of national security and interest. No wonder that the international community has despised America for her unbalanced foreign policy!

In Innocent Abroad, Indyk systematically misrepresents the record of the peace process. He’s lying not only to his readers, but to the American people. I can’t recommend his book. A curious reader will find Carter’s book a more honest rendering of the Middle East conflict with practical solutions to resolve it.

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