In the morning of Monday, July 29, 2013 hours before peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are set to resume, United States Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Martin Indyk, 62 will be the U.S. Special Envoy for the negotiations and Frank Lowenstein will be the deputy envoy and an advisor to Kerry. It had been presumed that Indyk was Kerry’s choice for the position, but there had no official confirmation from the State Department. The talks are beginning this evening in Washington, D.C. with an informal meeting about the logistics and agenda over an informal dinner.
Kerry introduced Indyk as the U.S. envoy during a press conference and stated in his remarks about the challenges ahead; “Going forward, it’s no secret that this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time. It’s no secret, therefore, that many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional, and symbolic issues. I think reasonable compromises has to be a keystone of all of this effort. I know the negotiations are going to be tough, but I also know that the consequences of not trying could be worse.”
The Secretary highly praised Indyk as the right person to for the role he is undertaking stating; “That experience has earned Ambassador Indyk the respect of both sides, and they know that he has made the cause of peace his life mission. He knows what has worked and he knows what hasn’t worked, and he knows how important it is to get this right.” Kerry continued saying; “Ambassador Indyk is realistic. He understands that Israeli-Palestinian peace will not come easily and it will not happen overnight. But he also understands that there is now a path forward and we must follow that path with urgency.”
Indyk in his acceptance remarks praised President Barack Obama and Kerry for the achievement of negotiating to the resumption of talks; “President Obama made the case so eloquently in his historic speech in Jerusalem in March of this year when he argued to an audience of young Israelis that, quote, “Peace is necessary, peace is just, and peace is possible.” And you, Mr. Secretary, have proven him right. You’ve shown that it can be done.”
He also recounted an antidote about his son from his time as ambassador to Israel in correlating it the possibility of peace resulting from this set of negotiations. Indyk said; “Fifteen years ago my son, Jacob, who was 13 at the time, designed a screensaver for my computer. It consisted of a simple question that flashed across the screen constantly: Dad, is there peace in the Middle East yet? I guess you could say, Mr. Secretary, that he was one of the original skeptics. (Laughter.) But behind that skepticism was also a yearning. And for 15 years, I’ve only been able to answer him, “Not yet.” Perhaps, Mr. Secretary, through your efforts and our support, we may yet be able to tell Jake, and more importantly, all those young Israelis and Palestinians who yearn for a different, better tomorrow, that this time, we actually made it.”
Martin Indyk is the vice president and foreign policy director at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C. think tank, but has served as the U.S. ambassador to Israel for two terms during the Clinton administration, and he also served as assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, and on the White House Nation Security Council during Clinton’s presidency. He was born to a Jewish family in London, England, raised in Australia, but became an America citizen in 1993. He has maintained relationships with both Netanyahu and Abbas from his time as ambassador, since he served during Netanyahu’s first term as Israel’s prime minister. He was not only Kerry’s choice to fill the position, but also Netanyahu and Abbas’s choice, with both approving his appointment.
Additionally the State Department announced that this set of talks have been given a nine month timetable, but may last longer if necessary. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki released the information confirming; “They have all agreed to focus on having talks not just for the sake of talks, but this is the beginning of direct final status negotiations on a nine-month, at least a nine-month, timetable.”
Now that Martin Indyk is set to serve as mediator, the rest of the negotiating teams for both sides consists of Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as the designated chief negotiator for Israel, Yitzhak Molcho is personally representing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saeb Erekat is representing the Palestinians, and Mohammed Shtayyeh as an Abbas’s advisor representing the PA President.
The first face to face meeting between the two sides will happen Monday evening at a state department dinner hosted by Kerry at his Washington home, it will be an Iftar dinner marking the end of the daily Ramadan month long fast. The two sides will discuss logical issues, such locations and formats and the talks frame work. The two sides will again meet on Tuesday at the State department to continue finalizing the agenda. After the second meeting Israeli and the Palestinians negotiators will return to the Middle East. The next meeting will be in the Middle East with Indyk taking over the mediator role.
The two delegations arrived early this morning for the first meeting. The Israeli delegation met in advance with the United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon in New York before continuing to Washington D.C. where the first meetings will take place. They discussed with the UN leader about the negotiations resuming and to get assurance that the UN will not make any unilateral decisions about the Palestinians while the talks are in process.
Speaking after the meeting to the press Israel’s negotiator Tzipi Livni emphasized the enormity of the talks and admitted they will be “very tough.” She stated; “It is going to be very tough and problematic,” but “a mutual interest for Israel, for the Palestinians, the Arab world, the international community.” Livini continued stating; “It is quite a responsibility. It is going to be complicated I am sure, but I believe that when we see our troubled region, what we can do is to change the future of generations to come by having peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
According to the United States State Department Israel had release Palestinians prisoner as pre-condition before the Palestinians would agree to the resumption of peace talks. The prisoners will primarily consist of all 104 “heavyweight prisoners” convicted of terrorist attacks and murders of Israelis prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords, including 24 Israeli Arabs. The prisoners have been serving between 19 and 30 years in prison.
They will be released in increments as the negotiations progress and based on how they proceed; four times, six to eight weeks apart with Netanyahu determining the exact dates. The Prime Minister supposedly will release 20 prisoners two weeks after the talks begin. The Israeli-Arabs will be the last to be released because they pose the greatest risks to Israeli Jews. Not all prisoners will be allowed to return to Palestinians territories, the most dangerous might be exiled to ensure the protection of Israel. Netanyahu will make the final arrangements after the cabinet’s vote approval.
Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin expressed his opposition to the precondition in a statement; “I’m disappointed by the stance of our American allies and the West who adopt this twisted idea and see releasing murderers as something that promotes peace, and building a kindergarten as destroying peace.” Elkin was referencing the prisoner release versus building a West Bank Jewish settlement.
The Israeli cabinet was reluctant to vote for the prisoner release as there is intense opposition to the measure from the Israeli public, Israeli lawmakers in the Knesset and among cabinet ministers even in Netanyahu’s own Likud Party, with his party’s vote split. The measure was tough for Netanyahu to sell to his cabinet ministers as Saturday the Prime Minister could only secure 10 ministers’ vote for the unpopular measure. The final vote showed how much the issue causes tension in the cabinet, members of the Knesset and the Israeli public. The measure passed after five and half hours negotiations with a vote of 13 to 7 with two ministers abstaining.
Speaking in his opening remarks at the cabinet meeting Netanyahu’s reticence was evident, he conveyed; “This moment is not easy for me. It is not easy especially for the families, the bereaved families, whose heart I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country and this is one of those moments.
The vote prompted Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat to issue a statement in response; “We welcome the Israeli government’s decision to release the prisoners. We consider this an important step and hope to be able to seize the opportunity provided by the American administration’s efforts.” The Israeli cabinet’s official vote led the Palestinian Authority to formally agree to the talks, the resumption was contingent on the vote.
With both sides confirming their participation and hours after the Israeli cabinet voted in favor of releasing the Palestinians prisoners, Kerry formally announced the resumption of peace talks stated that they were set to begin Monday, July 29, with a second meeting set for Tuesday, July 30. Kerry praised Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stating; “Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point. We are grateful for their leadership.”
Kerry stated in this morning’s press conference how President Barack Obama has been directly involved in restarting negotiations. Obama released a statement early Monday morning in advance of the meeting saying; “This is a promising step forward, though hard work and hard choices remain ahead. I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith and with sustained focus and determination. The United States stands ready to support them throughout these negotiations, with the goal of achieving two states, living side by side in peace and security.”
Last Friday July 19, 2013, United States Secretary of State John Kerry announced from Amman, Jordan that the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority agreed to sit down together for peace talks in Washington, DC. This is the first time talks will have resumed in three years since they stalled in 2010 over West Bank Jewish settlement construction. Kerry made six trips to the Middle East since March to secure this agreement.
Palestinians have been demanding as a precondition that the talks would be based on the pre-1967 Six-Day War borders would take away from Israel Jerusalem’s old city, the Golan Heights and the West Bank, and that there will be a settlement construction freeze in Israeli settlements that are located beyond the bounds of the 1967 borders, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel has demanded at a minimum level that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish State, although Israel is thoroughly opposed to Palestinian right of return to their pre-1948 homes in Israel, and any division of Jerusalem.
The United States supports the 1967 borders as a basis for talks, an unnamed senior Likud Party member close to the matter stated; “The issue of the 1967 borders, as far as it is understood, is being presented as an American position,” however, despite earlier reports U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did not write a letter to Palestinians promising them the Yom-Kipper war borders in a peace agreement.
Netanyahu supposedly will cap construction this year to 1,000 homes in existing settlement communities as opposed to outposts; there however, are no limits to number of private constructions. The senior Likud official does not believe that is not much of concession, since that is the average construction each year anyhow. The source told the media; “There has almost never been a year in which more than 1,000 housing units were built under government auspices in the settlements. Furthermore, Netanyahu has placed no limits on private construction activity, which, in the meantime, is proceeding as usual.”
As peace talks begin with optimism and caution, both sides hope this round of negotiations will bring about a resolution to the conflict. However, to be successful the concessions have to both sided; already the talks have set preconditions on side as opposed to the other. After twenty years of off and on negotiations there is good reason to hope for the best, but the bar of expectations should not be set too high, the next nine months will tell if this time the talks will be successful.
- Secretary of State John Kerry’S Remarks With Ambassador Martin Indyk; Press Briefing Room; Washington, DC, July 29, 2013
Statement by President Barack Obama on the Resumption of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, July 29, 2013
Resumption of Israeli-Palestinian Direct Final Status Negotiations, U.S. State Department, July 28, 2013
- PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Remarks at the Start of the Cabinet Meeting, July 28, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.