U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has finally managed to extract an agreement from the Israelis and Palestinians to agree to hold talks on how to reach the so-called "final status" that would allow the conflict that has fueled all other regional conflicts to finally be settled. This is a huge step forward in the history of the on-again, off-again peace talks. And this time around it might just work.
On the agenda will be:
- the question of final borders delineating the contours of the state of Israel and those of the future state of Palestine.
- the final status on Jerusalem, claimed by both sides as their capital city.
- the right of return of Palestinian refugees
- and the security of Israel.
It therefore goes without saying that the person who will hold the responsibility of acting as the "traffic cop," or to put more eloquently, the chief conflict resolutionist, the head negotiator, will have a monumental task ahead. He will have to have enough clout to convince the Israeli delegation not to pack up and go when the talks reach a deadlock and it seems as though there can be no solution in sight. And if we can learn from history, there has rarely been a single peace negotiation that has not reached that breaking point.
There are two prerequisites needed for that position: First it has to be someone intricately familiar with the Arab-Israeli issue. It has to be someone who fully understands Israel's fears and aspirations, and two; it has to be some one the Israeli side can trust implicitly. It has to be someone who can pull the Israeli prime minister by the shirt sleeve and convince him to stay, to give it one more try, one final attempt. Someone who can drag the head of the Israeli delegation into the deserted lounge at 3:30 a.m. and convince him that he must give it one more shot. It has to be someone close to the Israelis, and someone the Israelis can trust.
There are those who say that naming Martin Indyk as the U.S. special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations is an ominous sign and the equivalent of asking the wolf to tend to the Middle East chicken coop.
This analyst strongly disagrees.
Indyk stands "accused" of being too pro-Israeli. Here are his credentials: indeed, he is. Judge for yourself.
He began his career in Washington in 1982 working as a deputy research director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), arguably the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group in the nation with access to the U.S. Congress like no other. From there he helped found The Washington Institute for Near East Policy in 1985, a think tank known to be pro-Israeli.
Most recently Indyk was vice president of the Brookings Institution and the Director of the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy.
In addition to being close to several Israeli leaders, Indyk is a board member of the New Israel Fund and of the National Security Studies in Israel and he is also a member of the advisory board of the Israel Democracy Institute.
"How can the United States expect an unbalanced assessment from a diplomat who, although at times critical of Israeli policies, has a background that clearly identifies him with one of the parties in the tragic Middle East conundrum," asks one of his critics?
The answer is simple. Knowing he is openly pro-Israeli, the Israelis will trust him far more than they would someone they are not convinced will watch out for their interests from the opening session to after the ink dries on any agreement that is likely to be reached. In fact naming Indyk as negotiator is a brilliant move on the part of President Barack Obama.
These talks are going to be long and painful. In order to succeed both sides will have to make concessions and those are difficult.
Alright, but what about the Palestinian side?
That will be the tricky part in the negotiations, but this part can be played by either Secretary Kerry or President Obama, if and when they may need to intervene.
And of course Martin Indyk will have to prove to the Palestinians that he can also be trusted by them. It's a gargantuan task ahead for Indyk. Never have the stakes in the Middle East been so high. And the Israelis know that. The Palestinians know that and Martin Indyk knows that better than most.