Martin Indyk, who resigned a few days ago as U.S. envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, said on Wednesday that one of the reasons for the negotiations' failure was the "deep loathing of each leader for the other that was built up over the years."
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Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Indyk said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did not believe in the seriousness of each other's intentions.
"Loathing is maybe too strong a word for the way Netanyahu feels about Abu-Mazen [Abbas], but it is certainly the way Abu Mazen feels about Netanyahu – 'that man,'" Indyk said, noting the way Abbas would refer to his Israeli counterpart.
According to Indyk, Abbas does not believe he has a partner or that the United States can pressure Israel into make compromises.
The former U.S. envoy said his conclusion from the failure of the nine-month process, which ran out on April 29, is that the blame belongs equally to Abbas and Netanyahu.
"The status quo was more preferable for both leaders than taking the tough compromises," he said.
'Netanyahu sweated bullets, Abbas shut down'
At the same time, Indyk spoke highly of Netanyahu's handling of the talks.
"Netanyahu moved to the zone of possible agreement. I saw him sweating bullets to find a way to reach an agreement," said Indyk.
Abbas, for his part, did not show flexibility, Indyk added.
"We tried to get Abu Mazen to the zone of possible agreement but we were surprised to learn he had shut down. We were ready to go beyond policy positions the U.S. had taken on the core issues to bridge the gaps and resolve it, and therefore there was something in it for him – and he didn’t answer us. Abbas [effectively] checked out of the talks in mid-February," said Indyk.
He went on to say that the reason Abbas "shut down" was Israel's massive settlement construction during the period of the talks.
Abbas became rigid in his approach "because of some of the things the Israelis did – settlements," said Indyk. "There was an understanding on our part that the settlement activity would be limited and only in the blocs [near the Green Line] – what we got was with each release of prisoners, announcements of [housing] tenders in the blocs and planning outside the blocs. Abbas reached the point that he thought, 'This is not worth it for me.'"
Indyk offered the view that Netanyahu's insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people was a reasonable one.
"It wasn't a trick," Indyk said. However, he added that Netanyahu's repeated, public emphasis of the issue made Abbas think it was a ploy to deny the Palestinians their national rights.
"The more Netanyahu pushed, the more Abbas rejected it," Indyk said.
'Settlers sabotaged talks'
The former envoy lamented the political influence of the settlers and their supporters on the peace talks, attacking Habayit Hayehudi for sabatoging them, in his view.
"You can deal with the economic settlers – they can be compensated or moved into the settlement blocs where 80 percent of the settlers live. But the other 20 percent are at the heart of this Israeli government – settlement activity was used by them at critical junctures of the negotiations to blow them up," he said.
Indyk lauded Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, calling him "the smartest politician in Israel." During the course of the talks, Lieberman shifted in his political stance and positioned himself to the left of Netanyahu, Indyk noted.
"He supported the Kerry plan," said the ex-envoy. "He announced his own peace initiative in the midst of all those negative trends. Next month he will probably come out with some initiative. He is the smartest politician in Israel, and he must be sensing that there is a constituency that he is appealing to by talking about peace."