Indyk in 2010: Netanyahu Lacks 'Generosity of Spirit' Regarding Palestinians

Netanyahu's fear of being seen a 'sucker' complicating peace talks, former U.S. envoy wrote in declassified email, which offered ways to deal with Israeli prime minister's 'psychology.'

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Haaretz
Martin Indyk, 2012.
Martin Indyk, 2012. Credit: Bloomberg
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Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to lack a "generosity of spirit," former U.S. envoy to the Middle East Martin Indyk wrote in a recently declassified 2010 email, adding that this lack combined with his fear of being seen as a "freier (sucker)" was creating a "real problem" in peace efforts facing the Palestinians.

The email, titled "dealing with Netanyahu" and sent to George Mitchell, then the U.S. special envoy for Middle East peace, and to Jeffery Feltman, assistant secretary at the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the Department of State, further accused Netanyahu of harming the negotiations with the Palestinians by introducing "creative ideas."

"Thinking out of the box, as he likes to do, will only further delay the negotiations because the box is already well-defined. To attempt to broaden the parameters will generate mistrust of his intentions on the Palestinian side just when direct negotiations provide the opportunity to build trust," Indyk, who served at the time as a senior member of the Brookings Institute, wrote.

At the time the email was sent, direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians had just broke down when a 10-month freeze on settlement construction expired, only several weeks after they started.

After a brief review of Israel's political arena and Netanyahu's maneuvers within it, Indyk made a detailed analysis of "Bibi's psychology:"

"Believing that he is a great negotiator, and that he is operating in the Middle East bazaar, he inflates his requirements well beyond anything reasonable in the belief that this is the best way to secure the highest price," Indyk wrote.

"The process of bringing him down to a reasonable price uses up a lot of energy, uses up a lot of goodwill, humiliates his Palestinian negotiating partner, and raises doubts about his seriousness. In the end, under great pressure from all quarters, he will make the final concession, but only after wasting a lot of time, making everybody furious with him, and thereby securing no credit either with his supporters or negotiating partners," Indyk wrote.

"At heart, he seems to lack a generosity of spirit. This combines with his legendary fear of being seen as a "freier" (sucker) in front of his people to create a real problem in the negotiations, especially because he holds most of the cards," Indyk wrote.

This focus on personality rather than on politics, Indyk explained, is due to the fact that Netanyahu's politics all point in the direction of making a deal: "The Israeli public is ready to get on with it; if Israel doesn't make a serious move, it will further delegitimize its standing internationally (something Bibi is deeply concerned about); Bibi needs President Obama in his corner to deal with the threat from Iran and to avoid punishment by the voters for mishandling relations with the U.S.; and if he doesn't make the deal with Abu Mazen now, he will have helped to advance the future he is most concerned about - a Hamas takeover of the Palestinian leadership," Indyk wrote.

At the end of his email, Indyk admitted that he has no "magic solution for what must be a deeply frustrating exercise." However, he offered several recommendations: Embracing Netanyahu to alleviate his fears that the U.S. administration is rooting for his downfall; making Netanyahu understand that his negotiation tactics are "counterproductive to his own purpose," and, "as a friend," explaining to Netanyahu what the effects of these tactics would be, especially with regards to the Palestinian side.

If these recommendations fail and the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians break down, Indyk said the U.S. should avoid recriminations and reiterate its commitment to a negotiated solution when both sides are ready. "The Israeli public and the American Jewish Community should know how far the President was prepared to go and they should be allowed to draw their own conclusions. Bibi, Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas), and the Arab states need negotiations and time is not on the side of any of them. They will come back to the table sooner rather than later as long as we keep the door open," Indyk wrote.

Indyk resigned his role as special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in June 2014, about two months after the talks broke down. In an interview conducted several days later, Indyk said 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."

"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. The former U.S. envoy said his conclusion from the failure of the nine-month process is that the blame belongs equally to Abbas and Netanyahu.

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