By Jeff Barak and Herb Keinon, July 4, 2001
HERZLIYA – Outgoing US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said yesterday he
does not believe Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat “ever really gave
up violence as a tool to achieving his objectives.”
Indyk, who will be leaving his post next week after finishing up his second stint
here as ambassador, said he does not believe Arafat “was sincere” when he
renounced the use of violence as a prelude to the Oslo Accords.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Indyk also spoke out strongly against
Israel implementing a policy of separation. He said a unilateral pullout from the
territories “sends a signal of weakness” and would “underscore the message
that Nasrallah is trying to send to the Arab
world – that through violence you can get an Israeli withdrawal.”
Praising Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as “a pragmatist and a realist,” Indyk said
he, like Sharon, cannot envisage a comprehensive peace agreement between
Israel and the Palestinians in the foreseeable future.
“It makes sense,” Indyk said, “to go for a phased agreement – try and solve
some issues and leave other issues for later.” He added he thinks such an
accord could be reached on the territorial issue, leaving the issues of refugees
and Jerusalem to a later date.
Indyk insisted, however, that this is “only going to work if Arafat puts a stop to
terror. If he doesn’t, it’s a very gloomy prognosis.”
According to the American envoy, Israel now faces “three bad options:” to
enter Palestinian Authority territory and reoccupy Area A; to adopt a policy of
separation/unilateral withdrawal; or to try getting Arafat to live up to his
obligations and clamp down on Palestinian terror.
The first option, said Indyk, would be disastrous for Israel’s international
standing and he also doubts Israeli society could stand the strain of
reoccupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The idea of separation or unilateral withdrawal – unlike the withdrawal from
Lebanon, which was in line with a UN resolution and thus won international
backing – would only send “a signal of weakness.” Moreover, Indyk pointed
out, “the last line of withdrawal is the first line of attack” for the other side.
The ambassador also questioned what would happen to settlements that
fall outside the line Israel chooses to withdraw behind. And a unilateral
withdrawal, Indyk continued, does not take into account the special nature of
“Are you going to cut off 200,000 Arabs from the West Bank? Put a
fence there between Jews and Arabs and make Jerusalem the focus of
violence?” he asked.
The third option, that of trying to force Arafat to clamp down on terror, is the
least bad of the three, Indyk said, although he noted that Arafat had
consistently failed to deliver on this issue. But “what’s the alternative?” he
A key player in the peace process since its beginning, Indyk described the Oslo
process as a “grand enterprise, noble endeavor, and heroic effort to transform
the region.” He said the US backed the project, because when Bill Clinton took
over as US president in 1993 “a uniquely positive set of circumstances” gave
the US the sense that there was a real opportunity to transform the Middle
“The Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union dramatically changed the
situation in this region,” Indyk said. “The US was the dominant power, and the
Arab military options were dealt a decisive blow.”
But eight years down the line, Indyk admitted, “you have to say that the
Indyk’s analysis of failure
Jerusalem Post opinion, July 6, 2001
In his farewell interview appearing in this newspaper today, US Ambassador
Martin Indyk shows a fair degree of humility. Indyk was not “just” an
ambassador – over the past eight years his service on the National Security
Council staff and as assistant secretary for Near East affairs, as well as two
stints as ambassador, grant him the status of an architect of the peace process.
But he did not try to act as if we are experiencing a minor bump in the road. His
admissions and advice are worth examination.
“We came in with the sense that there was a real opportunity
to transform the Middle East, to achieve comprehensive peace, and to move
into the 21st century,” Indyk explained. But “you have to say after eight years
that the exercise failed.”
This admission of failure may seem self-evident today, but no US official has
said so so plainly.
When asked why, Indyk says there is “enough blame to go around,” but
also states bluntly that there was “a fundamental failure of leadership on the
Arab side” on the part of Hafez Assad and Yasser Arafat.
Even more remarkably, Indyk states that, “I don’t believe that Arafat
ever really gave up violence as a tool to achieving his objectives.”
In essence, Indyk paints a picture of Arafat duping the US and Israel, but
that Oslo – which was fundamentally a bet on Arafat’s ability to make peace
with Israel – was a bet that had to be made.
Speaking about the future, Indyk sees three “bad” alternatives for Israel:
“reoccupy Gaza and the West Bank,” unilateral separation, and seeking
something “like a divorce agreement” with Arafat. Sharon has rightly ruled out
the first option, according to Indyk, leaving the last two.
Indyk advises against unilateral separation because, without the
“international legitimacy” that accompanied the withdrawal from Lebanon, it
would “send a signal of weakness.”
Regarding the last option, Indyk favors what he calls a “phased
agreement” that would settle the territorial issue first and leave the issues of
Jerusalem and refugees for later.
Indyk’s analysis raises many questions, such as why the United States put so
much faith in Arafat for so long, and why even today Indyk’s least worst option
is to enter another negotiation with Arafat. It is far from clear why it would be
in Israel’s interest to give up all its territorial cards in exchange for another
promise from Arafat not to use violence.
Indyk, moreover, is too quick to rule out the unilateral option, even though he is
right to point out its major pitfall. While Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon was
by its nature a pure and complete withdrawal, unilateral action taken by Israel
could involve a readjustment of Oslo’s lines that would not everywhere be in
the Palestinians favor.
Also, the unilateral action and negotiation options may not be mutually
exclusive. In any case, Israel would not change its standing desire to reach a
comprehensive peace with the Palestinians and throughout the region.
But the most instructive points for the present and future may be those that
Indyk made about the past. “In Arafat’s case,” Indyk flatly states, “it is a
question of shutting off the alternatives, so that he has no alternative but to
move ahead with the process.”
If there is anything that Indyk should have stressed more greatly, it is that
Oslo’s cardinal failure was exactly this: the US and Israel refused to hold Arafat
to a standard of full compliance.
Arafat’s decision to resort to violence was based on the calculation that it
would pay, and that the risk that it would cost him was low. The fact that
Arafat could expect the international community to help him gain from violence
was the greatest structural threat to the peace process in the past, and remains
the greatest threat in the future.
As an opinionated and influential diplomat, Ambassador Martin Indyk will not
leave many neutral feelings about his role behind him. Surely, Indyk himself
does not feel neutral about this country and the role of the United States in
safeguarding Israel’s security. There is no doubt that Indyk fervently believes
that the “exercise” he devoted the past eight years to was in the best interests
of the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians.
We hope that he continues to think and speak frankly about the lessons
of Oslo, in the hope that we all can learn from history rather than be condemned to repeat it.