06 Sep

Duplicitous Diplomacy Once Again


Robert Grenier was the CIA’s chief of station in Islamabad, Pakistan, from 1999 to 2002. He was also the director of the CIA’s counter-terrorism centre.

The latest piece of ‘analysis’ of the misnamed Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace process’ from Martin Indyk, recently aired by the New York Times Op-Ed page, simply leaves me slack-jawed.

On the surface, Martin’s views appear to be the soul of pedestrian reasonableness. Cutting across the grain of current informed opinion, the former stalwart of the powerful pro-Israeli (one might more accurately say pro-Likud) US lobbying juggernaut AIPAC lists four reasons why we should be optimistic about the prospects for the direct peace talks in which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally has been coerced into participating.

Flawed reasoning

First, says Martin, terrorist violence against Israel has diminished considerably. Second, Israeli settlement activity “has slowed significantly”. Third, he points out, the public on both sides “supports a two-state solution”. And finally, after nearly two decades of on-and-off Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, he says, the broad outlines of a solution are already well-known: It’s just a matter of summoning the political will on both sides to see it through – and the talks in prospect will at least put both sides to the test.

Again, seemingly all quite reasonable. If this analysis were submitted by some college sophomore, I’d give him a ritual grade of B-plus and send him on his way. But this is not just some undergraduate: This is Martin Indyk, former senior US official and prominent member of the American peace-process gang responsible, collectively, for the abject failure of American-sponsored Mideast peace-making during the one period – the 1990s – when a just peace might have been achieved. Their failure was not so much the result of incompetence, but of duplicity: For a just peace serving the long term interests of the US (and, ironically, of the Israelis as well) was never their intent – pleasing Israeli leaders and their slavish US supporters was.

Unlike our humble undergraduate, therefore, Martin knows better. The fact that he still purveys pious nonsense regarding the peace process calls his motives once more into question, and a brief examination of his views serves to explain why he and his comrades – the Dennis Rosses, the Aaron Millers, the Dan Kurtzers and a few others – somehow managed, on behalf of their political masters, not only to preclude any possibility of a just peace in the Middle East, but to undermine the long-term security of both Israel and the US in the process.

Settlement semantics

Let’s begin with settlements. There is no other issue which so invites mendacity and obfuscation, and Martin is as adept as anyone. My favourite this time is Indyk’s assertion that due to the (again misnamed) Israeli settlement ‘moratorium’, “no new housing starts in the West bank were reported by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics in the first quarter of this year”. Gosh, what an interesting factoid.

Of course, a count of housing starts in the West Bank would exclude areas illegally and unilaterally annexed by Israel, wouldn’t it? And let’s not even begin to try to ferret out what constitutes a “housing start” in the estimation of the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics. But beyond that, what’s so magical about the first quarter of this year? By my calculation, we’re in the third quarter of the year; is there some reason to ignore what’s been happening since March?

But there’s more. As Martin breathlessly reports, there have been “hardly any” – a shockingly imprecise formulation from someone so practiced in the art of fine parsing – new housing projects (not “starts” this time, but entire projects!) since … well, since the huge diplomatic row caused by Israel’s announcement of 1,600 additional residential units in East Jerusalem during a visit by Joe Biden, which occurred in – well, come to think of it, that was in the first quarter of this year, wasn’t it? One wonders if construction of those new housing units has started yet.

Downturn in demolitions

Finally, we are told, the demolition of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem “is also down” compared to recent years. That’s rather like praising someone for beating his wife less frequently.

From all this, Martin would have us believe that the current moment is propitious for peacemaking.

At least Martin has the grace to admit that the settlement moratorium-in-name-only, due to expire on September 26, “seems unlikely” (nice bit of understatement, that) to be extended by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and of course Mahmoud Abbas has declared his intention to withdraw from negotiations if and when the ‘moratorium’ ends. Martin’s got a nifty compromise, though: Perhaps Netanyahu could restrict building “to ‘modest growth’ in the settlement blocs that will most likely be absorbed into Israel in the final agreement”.

And that would be the whole point of these ‘negotiations,’ wouldn’t it? It is only the Obama White House which wants these negotiations, and their point would be to provide the illusion of progress – a perceived necessity, given the extravagance of President Obama’s early pretensions as a Middle East peacemaker.

Necessary irritant

The price of cooperation in this charade for the Israelis is that they be allowed to continue to build, and thus to further consolidate the unilaterally-imposed settlement first conceived and initiated by Ariel Sharon in 2005. Netanyahu is not about to let progress toward that goal be impeded by negotiations; those negotiations, at worst, are just a necessary irritant to be borne while he moves forward to seize what he wants. That’s a deal the US administration is quite willing to accept.

The Palestinians know this, which accounts for their extreme reluctance to play along with these negotiations in the first place. And Martin knows it as well as anyone.

Indyk is right that the public on both sides supports a two-state solution, which makes the current situation all the more tragic. While Martin would like to pretend that Netanyahu is motivated to work against the prevailing anti-two-state sentiment within his own Likud Party, he clearly is not – whatever he might say. On those rare occasions when Netanyahu can bring himself to form the words “Palestinian state,” one can fairly hear the wheels turning in his head: What he means when he says the words is that if the Palestinians should wish to call a chain of non-contiguous, demilitarised Bantustans on the remaining land Israel has elected not to annex a “state,” they are welcome to do so, no matter how distasteful the sound.

And of course, none of this involves Gaza, which is to remain what it is now: A vast prison camp.

Martin Indyk would have us believe that all that stands in the way of a viable peace between Israelis and Palestinians – the broad outlines of which, he correctly points out, are already well-known – is for both Netanyahu and his Palestinian counterpart to summon the necessary “willpower” to bring it about.

Binyamin Netanyahu may lack many things, but willpower is not one of them. The notion that Netanyahu is secretly wishing he could embrace a compromise solution which would involve dismantling a significant number of West Bank settlements and accepting some form of shared sovereignty in East Jerusalem is simply ludicrous. He has always made clear he would never do so. Why would he do so now? To please President Obama? No, Netanyahu has no end of willpower – and what he wills is far removed from the type of agreement past negotiations suggest might be marginally acceptable to the Palestinians.

Duplicitous diplomacy

Which brings us back to Martin Indyk. No one understands the above better than he. He knows Netanyahu’s thoughts and intentions better than I could ever hope to. He knows fully and well that the prospective direct talks are going nowhere – hence his disingenuous final coda, that we should “suspend disbelief” and “welcome the fact that American diplomacy has ensured (Israeli and Palestinian leaders) will soon be put to the test”. Yes, they will be put to the test, and we already know the outcome.

The only conceivable explanation for his mendacity, apart from the desire to see his name in print, is that Martin is continuing to promote the type of ‘American diplomacy’ he championed during his years in the Clinton administration – diplomacy designed to keep pressure off the Israelis while they do whatever they please. Although he doubtless had to make some accommodations along the way in transitioning from an overt lobbyist on behalf of Israel to a foreign-policy apparatchik in the Clinton administration, one always assumed that his basic motives were unchanged. In those years, he had a lot of company, the redoubtable Dennis Ross being most prominent, and most disingenuous, among them. At least Aaron Miller, another of the state department peace-process team members, has had the good grace since his retirement to admit that he and the others saw their role as acting as “Israel’s lawyers”.

For those of us who watched the process from close range in those years, it was obvious that Ross, Indyk and the others saw their jobs as consisting of a two-part process: Find out what the Israelis want, and then help them get it.

In this, they could never have succeeded in doing the harm they did on their own. After all, they were merely apparatchiks – viziers serving at the behest of a series of politically craven administrations, of which the current one is merely the latest.

But for those of us who spent our careers trying to protect and defend a country whose security was being systematically and gratuitously undermined by the likes of Martin Indyk, this latest bit of cynical posturing in the New York Times is a lot to swallow. I don’t know who Martin thinks he’s fooling, but I can assure you he’s not fooling us.

Robert Grenier was the CIA’s chief of station in Islamabad, Pakistan, from 1999 to 2002. He was also the director of the CIA’s counter-terrorism centre.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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