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Breaking the Last Taboo


Back in September of 2000, Edward Said declared, “American Zionism has made any serious public discussion of the past or future of Israel—by far the largest recipient ever of US foreign aid—a taboo. To call this quite literally the last taboo in American Life would not be an exaggeration.” In accordance with Said’s position, Israel-Palestine “negotiation” expert Martin Indyk is resigning as US special envoy after being outed as an “anonymous source” who blamed Israeli settlements for the failure of negotiations.

Indyk’s statements speak for themselves: “There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort’s failure, but people in Israel shouldn’t ignore the bitter truth—the primary sabotage came from the settlements. The Palestinians don’t believe that Israel really intends to let them found a state when, at the same time, it is building settlements on the territory meant for that state. We’re talking about the announcement of 14,000 housing units, no less. Only now, after talks blew up, did we learn that this is also about expropriating land on a large scale. That does not reconcile with the agreement.”

Ironically, in his book, Innocent Abroad, Indyk places part of the blame for the peace processes’ failures on the “perception of increased settlement activity” when such activity was purportedly negligible. To be factually accurate, during the time period in question (the 1990s), the settler population actually increased by over 100,000. More of the fault, according to Indyk, lies in Israeli politicians duping US representatives. It bears contemplation as to whether or not Indyk is actually so naïve as to have been duped twice over an almost identical issue—after all, how could an authority with the National Security Council with decades of experience specializing in Israel-Palestine relations not know?  To sum up his approach: wherever the blame lies, it does not lie with the US—except for the thought that the US may have played too naively into Israeli interests.

Indyk parachuted into the US National Security Council by way of an inauguration-eve executive order by Clinton in 1994. Seen as a hardliner of the Israeli lobby during his reign as president of the Washington lobby group-cum-think tank, Institute for Near East Policy (akin to AIPAC) in the 1980s, the Australian national of Jewish descent was speedily naturalized as a US citizen, and took a privileged place in the “negotiations.” His role would be to continue the Clinton Administration’s appearance as “moderate” by normalizing the political position of Israel in West Asia and supporting “other moderates” from Iran to Palestine.

In fact, during the Clinton Administration, the US team coordinating the Israel-Palestine talks presented a far cry from a balanced, diverse approach. Said explained the process in his essay “A People in Need of Leadership,” “After eight fruitless, immiserating years of further ‘negotiations,’ orchestrated by a team of US functionaries which has included such former lobby staffers for Israel as Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross, more abuses, more settlements, more imprisonments, more suffering have been inflicted on the Palestinians —including, since August 2001, a ‘Judaized’ East Jerusalem, with Orient House grabbed and its contents carted off: invaluable records, land deeds, maps, which Israel has simply stolen, as it did PLO archives from Beirut in 1982.”

These maps apparently did not help the State of Israel follow the accords that it signed during the 1990s; according to Indyk: “The Jewish people are supposed to be smart; it is true that they’re also considered a stubborn nation. You’re supposed to know how to read the map: In the 21st century, the world will not keep tolerating the Israeli occupation. The occupation threatens Israel’s status in the world and threatens Israel as a Jewish state.”

For Josh Reubner, national advocacy director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, we are witnessing history repeat itself: “[John] Kerry’s initiative to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace was foreordained to fail because it replicated the same patterns of previous botched US efforts. Kerry relied upon a ‘peace process’ team chocked full of pro-Israel ideologues to attempt to foist on the Palestinians a non-sovereign entity. Far from constituting a state in any meaningful sense of the term, the U.S.-Israeli offer on the table would have kept this Palestinian entity under the complete control of Israel, with Israel annexing the vast majority of its illegal settlements and maintaining in place its infrastructure of military occupation, including the illegal apartheid wall.”

Reubner is absolutely correct that the terms were impossible. But what if the resignation of Indyk shows that matters are even worse than a historical mimicry? Indyk, who crafted his image as a hardliner in the 1980s and a moderate in the 1990s, now seems like a rogue—even though his politics have apparently remained consistent with the Wye Agreements and the Clinton parameters. Clues emerged that this pattern was already presenting itself when Indyk was stripped of his security clearance by the US State Department for apparently lax laptop usage. His status was reinstated, but he maintains the honor of being the first US diplomat ever stripped of security clearance.

About the current failure of the peace process, Indyk declares, “At this point, it’s very hard to see how the negotiations could be renewed, let alone lead to an agreement. Towards the end, Abbas demanded a three-month freeze on settlement construction. His working assumption was that if an accord is reached, Israel could build along the new border as it pleases. But the Israelis said no.” This is a far cry from the Wye Agreements, which actually restored lands to the Palestinians. Indyk’s prognosis is, therefore, a far more damning testament to the absence of honest discussion about the State of Israel, the failure of his “moderate” approach, and the resulting backslide of US-Israel policy. “The Palestinians are tired of the status quo,” Indyk insists. “They will get their state in the end—whether through violence or by turning to international organizations.”

Alexander Reid Ross is co-moderator of the Earth First! Newswire and editor of the forthcoming Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014). His work can also be found in Life During Wartime: Resistance Against Counterinsurgency (AK Press 2013).

Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). His most recent book Against the Fascist Creep is forthcoming through AK Press.

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