In his first six months as Secretary of State, John Kerry has spent much of his energy and political capital on the Israel/Palestine conflict. His willingness to charge headfirst into a diplomatic arena where many American statesmen have failed signals that he is serious about the peace process. However, his recent appointment of Martin Indyk, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, as the United States’ special envoy to the new talks indicates that Kerry’s peace initiative has already run aground.
Ambassador Indyk is problematic as a mediator for the Israel-Palestine talks not only because of his clearly established pro-Israel bias, but also because he has already failed at similar peace negotiations during the Clinton administration.
Indyk’s ties to Israel run deep. He explains in his book, "I was first drawn to the Middle East through my Jewish identity and connection to Israel.” Originally an Australian citizen, Indyk studied in Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and volunteered in Israel’s war efforts. In a 2009 speech, Indyk explains that during this time, he was so convinced of the United States’ essential role in bringing peace to Israel that he chose to “make aliyah” to Washington and become a United States citizen (the term “aliyah” usually refers to diaspora Jews immigrating to Israel). He later became the deputy research director of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and co-founded the AIPAC-linked Washington Institute for Near East Policy “with support from the pro-Israel community," according to his own book.
Indyk was heavily involved in Clinton administration's policy towards the Middle East, rising to become the U.S. Ambassador to Israel from April 1995 to September 1997 and also from January 2000 to July 2001. He was a key player in the failed negotiations at Camp David in 2000.
Indyk’s prominent role in the Clinton administration’s unsuccessful Israel-Palestine policy is even more troubling than his demonstrated pro-Israel bias. He is an old-timer, a member of a diplomatic generation that has already been given the opportunity to advance the Middle East peace process and has failed.
The State Department cites Indyk’s diplomatic experience as the reason he was selected for the job, although they have seemed eager to downplay the fact that his diplomatic resume is riddled with failure. When Matt Lee of the Associated Press challenged State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on Secretary Kerry’s assertion “that Ambassador [Indyk] knows what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past,” asking for an example of something that has worked for Indyk in the past, Psaki failed to produce a single example. Surely, there must have been other candidates whose Middle East expertise equal Indyk's, but who do not share his "experience" in failed negotiations and obvious pro-Israel entanglements.
Of course, Secretary Kerry and the Obama administration must have had reasons for appointing such a problematic candidate to this important post. Without detailed knowledge of the selection process, which occurred behind closed doors, we are left to guess at the logic behind this choice. Perhaps the Israelis would not agree to talks at all without being assured they would have a friendly U.S. mediator, or perhaps the appointment was made to placate AIPAC domestically.
Regardless of motives behind Indyk’s appointment, the move indicates that Kerry’s initiative will continue with old, repeatedly failed tactics rather than creating a fundamentally new approach to the peace process. Furthermore, it demonstrates that the U.S. will continue its oxymoronic role as a biased mediator in the conflict, reaffirming Palestinian disillusionment towards the negotiations. And thus, it seems that the talks have failed before they have even started.