Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Can a Jewish Zionist, Like Indyk, Be an Honest
Broker Between Israelis and Palestinians?
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, July 29, 2013
The Turkey Under the Table
When you have a conflict between
two parties, the way to solve it is clear: you put them in the same room,
let them thrash out their differences and emerge with a reasonable solution
acceptable to both.
For example, a conflict between a wolf and a
lamb. Put them in the same room, let them thrash out their differences and
Just a moment. The wolf emerges. Now where's that
If you have a conflict between two parties who are like a
wolf and a lamb, you must have a third party in the room, just to make sure
that Party 1 does not have Party 2 for dinner while the talks are going on.
The balance of power between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is
like that between a wolf and a lamb. In almost every respect – economic,
military, political - Israel has a vast advantage.
This is a fact of
life. It is up to the Third Party to balance this somehow.
Can it be
done? Will it be done?
I have always liked
John Kerry. He radiates an
air of honesty, sincerity, that seems real. His dogged efforts command
respect. The announcement this week that he has at long last achieved even
the first stage of talks between the parties can give some room for
As Mao said: A march of a thousand miles begins with a
The parties have agreed to a meeting of delegates to
work out the preliminary details. It should take place this coming week in
Washington. So far so good.
The first question is: who will be the
third person? It has been leaked that the leading candidate for this
delicate task is Martin Indyk,
a veteran former State Department officer.
This is a problematic
choice. Indyk is Jewish and very much
involved in Jewish and Zionist activity. He was born in
England and grew up in Australia. He served twice as US ambassador to
Right-wing Israelis object to him because he is active in
left-wing Israeli institutions. He is a member of the board of the New
Israel Fund, which gives financial support to moderate Israeli peace
organizations and is demonized by the extreme rightists around Binyamin
Palestinians may well ask whether among the 300 million
US citizens there is not a single non-Jew who can manage this job. For many
years now it has been the case that almost
all American officials dealing with the Israeli-Arab problem have
been Jews. And almost all of them later went on to be
officials in Zionist think-tanks and other organizations.
If the US
had been called upon to referee negotiations between, say, Egypt and
Ethiopia, would they have appointed an Ethiopian-American?
I have met Indyk several times, generally at diplomatic receptions (not
US embassy receptions, to which I was not invited.) Once I sent him a letter
connected with his name.
The story about Indyk is well known to
anyone versed in Jewish folklore. It was told by a very influential Jewish
rabbi, Nachman of Braslaw (1772-1811), who has many followers even today in
Once upon a time there was this prince who suffered under
the delusion that he was an Indyk (turkey
in Yiddish – from the Hebrew for Indian hen. He was sitting
naked under a table and eating only crumbs thrown to him.
the doctors failed to cure him, a wise rabbi undertook the task. He stripped
off his clothes, sat naked under the table and started acting like an Indyk
too. Step by step he convinced the prince that an indyk may wear clothes,
eat regular food and, in the end, sit at the table instead of under it. That
way the prince was cured.
Some might say that this story has a
direct bearing on his future job, if he is indeed chosen. Two naked Indyks
are now under the table, and his job will be to get them to sit at the table
and talk seriously about peace.
True, the Palestinians are used to
having crumbs thrown to them, but they may now demand some real food.
The chances for any peace negotiations may be assessed by the atmosphere
prevailing on both sides, the terminology they use and the internal
discussions they conduct.
These are not very inspiring.
Israel almost nobody uses the word “peace”. Even Tzipi Livni, who will be in
charge of the negotiations on our side, talks only about a “final-status
agreement” that would “put an end to the conflict”, not put an end to the
Most Israelis ignore the event altogether, believing
that Netanyahu's and Mahmoud Abbas' sole aim is to abort the negotiations in
such a way as to put the onus on the other side. Most Palestinians believe
the same. Peace is definitely not in the air.
However, a poll
conducted this week showed that a large majority of Israelis – 55 to 25 (or,
to percentualize it, 69 to 31) - would vote in a referendum for a peace
agreement achieved by the Prime Minister. I have never had any doubt about
The idea of holding a referendum about a peace agreement is
now being advocated by the Right and resisted by the Left. I am in favor.
Without a solid majority, it would in any case be almost impossible for any
government to remove settlements. And I believe that any concrete agreement
accepted by a credible Palestinian leadership and recommended by the US will
receive a resounding “Yes” in a referendum.
Most of the experts say
that Israel should not strive for an endgame agreement, but for a more
modest “interim” agreement. They cite the old Jewish adage: “He who wants to
catch too much catches nothing.”
I beg to disagree..
there is the saying that you cannot cross an abyss in two jumps. No stopping
in the middle. We quoted this saying to Yitzhak Rabin after Oslo.
The fatal flaw of the Oslo agreement was that it was all interim. The final
aim was not stated. For the Palestinians it was clear that the aim was the
setting up of the State of Palestine in all the occupied territories,
including East Jerusalem. For the Israeli side, this was not clear at all.
Absent an agreement on that, every interim step became a point of
contention. If you want to go by train from Paris to Berlin, the
intermediate stations are different from the ones on the way to Madrid.
Oslo gave up its poor soul somewhere along the way with the endless
wrangling about the “safe passage” between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,
the “third withdrawal” and such.
The only way to proceed is first of
all to reach an agreement on the “core issues”. This can be implemented over
some time – though I would not recommend that either.
Israeli-Palestinian peace is a huge step in the history of the two peoples.
If we have the courage to do it, let’s do it, for God’s sake, without lying
down along the way and crying.
At the moment, the great
riddle is: what has Kerry promised each side in secret?
seems sound. Since the two sides could not agree on anything, and each
demanded that the other start negotiations “without pre-conditions” while
posing a lot of pre-conditions themselves, Kerry chose a different way.
It is based on a simple logic: in the
American-Israeli-Palestinian triangle, almost all decisions
will have to be made two-to-one. In practice, each side needs American
support to get its demands accepted.
So, instead of trying to
achieve the impossible – Israeli-Palestinian agreement on the basis of the
negotiations - America gave each side a promise to support it on certain
For example, at a guess: a promise that the US will support
the Palestinians on the border issue. The border will be based on the Green
Line with reasonable land swaps. Also, on freezing settlements while the
negotiations go on. On the other hand, the US will support Israel on the
definition of Israel as a “Jewish” state and on the (non-)return of
In the past, the US has broken such promises
without blushing. For example, before the Camp David meeting, President Bill
Clinton gave Yasser Arafat a solid promise that he would blame neither side
for a failure. (Since the meeting was convened without the slightest
preparation, failure was predictable.) After the conference,
Clinton put the blame squarely – and
wrongly - on Arafat, a vile act of political opportunism, designed to help
his wife get elected in New York.
In spite of such
experiences, Abbas put his trust in Kerry. It seems that Kerry has the gift
of inspiring such trust. Let’s hope he does not squander it.
with or without a turkey to keep the wolf from devouring the lamb, and in
spite of all the past disappointments, let’s hope that this time real
negotiations get going and lead towards peace. The alternative is too dismal