Indyk staffs up to intensify Israeli Palestinian peace push

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US Middle East peace envoy Martin Indyk is expanding his team as the U.S. prepares to intensify its role facilitating Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“We've agreed that those talks should now be intensified and American involvement should be increased to facilitate these discussions,” Indyk told the J Street conference last week. (Sept. 30). “Our common objective is a final status agreement, not an interim agreement.”

To that end, he has grown his office's ranks.

Julie Sawyer, a career civil service officer who most recently served as Persian Gulf director on the National Security Staff, has joined Indyk’s team as his traveling senior aide. Sawyer previously served as a Middle East advisor to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns.

Sawyer joins a team that already includes deputy envoy and longtime Kerry confidante Frank Lowenstein. Ilan Goldenberg, a former Middle East advisor at the Pentagon and Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff, has joined the office as chief of staff.

USAID deputy assistant Middle East administrator Hady Amr has joined the envoy’s team as an economics advisor.

Michael Yaffe, a career foreign service officer specializing in Middle East and arms control issues, has joined the envoy’s office to do international outreach with organizations such as the Arab League and the Quartet. Yaffe came to the envoy's office—next to the State Department’s Near East Affairs bureau—after serving as a professor and dean at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia center for strategic studies.

The Pentagon has seconded an official to work with the team on security issues. David Wallsh, a Fletcher PhD candidate in Middle East and international security studies, joined Indyk's team last week to work on security issues related to the peace process. In addition, retired Marine Corps Gen. Jon Allen, the former Afghanistan and Centcom commander, has been leading a security dialogue with the Israel Defense Forces to help address Israel’s security requirements, Indyk told the J Street conference.

Indyk’s shop is expected to bring on someone to do outreach to the press, think tanks and the Hill, but sources would not yet disclose who that will be.

The growing ranks signal the seriousness of the negotiations effort, and the commitment to it by Secretary Kerry and President Obama, officials say.

“All core issues are on the table,” Indyk told the J Street conference last week. “Our common objective is a final status agreement, not an interim agreement.”

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking Sunday at Bar Ilan University, said negotiations were stuck over the Palestinian refusal to date to recognize Israel as a state of the Jewish people and to thereby give up the right of return, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly made reassuring comments in a meeting Monday with some members of the Israeli Knesset.

Relatively little has leaked from the talks to date, which have been conducted with little fanfare or publicity in the region since Kerry formally relaunched talks in Washington in July and named Indyk as envoy.

(Photo of US envoy Martin Indyk addressing the J Street Gala September 30, 2013, by J Street.)

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Kerry aims for Israel-Palestine peace accord in 9 months


Flanked by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that the United States will play the role of facilitator in final status talks between the parties that he hopes will lead to an agreement in nine months.

“The parties agreed here today that all of the final status issues, all of the core issues, and all other issues, are all on the table for negotiation,” Kerry told journalists at a press appearance with Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saab Erekat at the State Department Tuesday.

“And they are on the table with one simple goal,” Kerry continued. “Our objective is to achieve a final status agreement over the course of next nine months.”

Describing the atmosphere in two days of talks as “constructive, positive,” Kerry said the parties had agreed to “remain engaged in sustained, continuous and substantive meetings” on the core issues over the next nine months, beginning with a meeting in two weeks in either Israel or the West Bank.

The United States will play the role of facilitator in the process, Kerry said. State Department officials said newly appointed U.S. peace envoy Martin Indyk will be spending much time on the ground in the region, going back and forth.

Kerry spoke after President Obama met briefly with the two teams Tuesday morning. The White House stressed its support for Kerry’s effort, after some reports suggested the president was keeping the peace effort, seen as a long shot, at arms-length.

Kerry meantime heaped praise on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for giving another go to the peace process after a series of failed efforts over the past two decades.

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Peace talks to get underway, Kerry names Indyk envoy

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will resume in Washington Monday after a three year hiatus, the State Department announced.

Secretary of State John Kerry will host Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at an Iftar dinner Monday night following informal talks this afternoon at the State Department. Talks are scheduled to continue on Tuesday.

At 11am, Kerry is expected to announce that he has appointed former Clinton Israel envoy and Near East diplomat Martin Indyk as his lead negotiator, as Al-Monitor first reported was under consideration.

The Israelis will be represented in the talks this week by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho, and the Palestinians by Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh, the State Department said in a statement.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would release 103 Palestinian prisoners over the duration of talks, which will last a minimum of nine months, he said. His cabinet voted in favor of the prisoner release, as well as to put any prospective peace agreement reached with the Palestinians to a referendum.

“This moment is not easy for me,” Netanyahu said in a statement to his cabinet Sunday. “It is not easy especially for the…bereaved families, whose heart I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country and this is one of those moments.”

Secretary Kerry, in his invitation to Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Sunday, praised them for their courage. “Both leaders have demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions that have been instrumental in getting to this point,” Kerry said, according to the State Department’s Jen Psaki. “We are grateful for their leadership.”

(Top Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, May 23, 2013 Photo: Courtesy – Israel GPO. Second photo: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is greeted by Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat in the Jordanian capital Amman on June 29, 2013. Jacquelyn Martin / AFP / Getty Images.)

Kerry may tap Indyk as peace envoy

Former US ambassador to Israel and Clinton Near East envoy Martin Indyk may take a lead role in helping US Secretary of State John Kerry conduct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, diplomatic sources tell Al-Monitor, although an official cautioned that a decision has not been finalized.

Indyk, vice president of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, did not respond to a query Saturday. Gail Chalef, a spokesperson for Brookings, said Sunday that Indyk was away for the weekend and they declined to comment.

The decision on an envoy or negotiator has not been finalized, an official said Sunday, suggesting that a team of people would be assembled.

“No decision on a negotiator or envoy has been made,” a person familiar with the deliberations said. “The first step was getting the parties back to the table, and now Kerry will determine the right combination of players to work with the parties, knowing it's going to be a slog and that he can't carry it on his own shoulders day in and day out.”

The Back Channel previously reported that former Bill Clinton Middle East advisor Rob Malley may join the State Department Near East bureau, and may also play a role in Kerry's negotiating team.

Kerry announced Friday that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would come to Washington in the next week or so after he was able to reach agreement with the parties on a basis to resume negotiations.

The details on the talks would be kept under wraps, Kerry said, given the fragility and political sensitivities of the process. “We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead,” he said.

The parties had agreed to stay in negotiations for a minimum of six months, the New York Times reported Saturday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that he believes it is a vital strategic interest of Israel to pursue negotiations at this time, given the threat posed by Iran and to counter the prospect of a bi-national single state.

Resumed diplomacy “is important in and of itself in order to try and bring about the conclusion of the conflict between us and the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said in a statement Saturday. “And it is important in light of the strategic challenges that are before us, mainly from Iran and Syria.”

(Photo: Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat and Martin Indyk, vice president for foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, at the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar in June 2013. From the Brookings Foreign Policy program Facebook page.)

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Kerry says agreement for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to resume

Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would come to Washington next week to begin peace talks, but said that details for resumed negotiations remain to be finalized.

“On behalf of president Obama, I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Kerry said in a press conference in Amman Friday, at the end of his sixth trip this year to the Middle East to try to get the parties back to the peace table for the first time in three years. “This is a significant and and welcome step forward.”

Kerry said he will continue to keep the details of the discussions with the parties under wraps given the sensitivity and fragility of the basis for final status peace negotiations.

“The best way to give these negotiations a chance is to keep them private,” Kerry said. “We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead. Today, however, I am hopeful.”

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israeli negotiator Itzhak Molho, and Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat are expected to represent the parties at talks in Washington in the next week or so, Kerry said.

Kerry spoke to reporters in Amman after extending his trip to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the West Bank.

After his press conference, Kerry and his entourage boarded his flight to return to Washington. When Kerry entered the plane, his staff burst into applause, Bloomberg's Nicole Gaouette reported.

The parties, however, expressed ambivalence at the prospective talks–and the consequences of their potential breakdown. The Obama administration launched high-profile Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 2010, only to have them collapse a few weeks later after Israel refused to extend a one-year partial freeze on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank. Continue reading

Signs of progress in Kerry peace bid

Signs of progress?

The State Department released this photo of Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas today in Ramallah, amid reports Friday suggesting  Kerry may be on the verge of announcing agreement on relaunching Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Kerry extended his trip to the region Friday to meet with Abbas to see if he could overcome obstacles to resuming negotiations.

Kerry's helicopter ride from Amman to the West Bank capital was delayed two hours while he made phone calls to Israeli, Palestinian and US officials Friday, the New York Times reported.

The holdup is borders, analysts suggested.

“The biggest short term issue is at what point is Bibi actually going to be able to present a map,” one US Middle East analyst told the Back Channel Friday when it looked like Kerry may return to Washington without final agreement on resumed talks. “Once he does, does he have a coalition. It’s understandable the Palestinians are skeptical about that, and want that to be part of any formulation.”

But signs from Ramallah Friday were that the meeting with Abbas was going well, according to Israeli media reports. Israel Channel 2 reporter Ehud Yaari, citing Israeli officials, reported Friday that Kerry was on the verge of announcing agreement on relaunching talks.

Stay tuned.

(Photo: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before a meeting in Ramallah, West Bank, on July 19, 2013. State Department photo/ Public Domain.)

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Israel bristles at EU measure as Kerry arrives in Amman to push peace talks


Israel on Tuesday bristled at a new European Union directive curtailing EU financial agreements with Jewish settlements built outside Israel’s 1967 borders.

The move comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Amman Tuesday, for meetings with Arab diplomats about the peace process, Syria and Egypt.

Some sources said they were informed Monday that there was likely to be a three-way meeting of Israeli, Palestinian and US officials in Jordan while Kerry is there and a formal announcement of a re-launching of talks. U.S. officials however, tried vigorously to downplay the prospect of a big break-through. No trips to Jerusalem or meetings with Israeli officials were planned for this visit, Kerry's sixth to the region since becoming Secretary of State, State Department officials said.

Kerry met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh upon his arrival in Amman Tuesday before heading into what was billed as a private dinner with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Meantime, in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke harshly against the new EU directive.

“I expect those who want peace in the region to deal with settlements after they solve the Syria crisis and the Iranian threat,” Netanyahu said in a statement Tuesday in response to the EU measure, Haaretz reported.

The EU directive, adopted June 30, and due to come into effect 1 January 2014, “will prohibit the issuing of grants, funding, prizes or scholarships unless a settlement exclusion clause is included,” the Guardian newspaper reported.

The directive, which is non-binding on the EU’s 28 member states, “is financially inconsequential,” said Daniel Levy, head of Middle East programs at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It matters because liberal Israel, liberal Zionists, one of the main crutches of their argument for the two state solution, is the world won’t accept it otherwise.”

Israeli politicians such as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni have warned that Israel could face boycotts if it doesn’t curb settlements and the occupation of the West Bank, Levy said.

Israeli officials said the European move was unhelpful, however.

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Kerry urges support for Mideast peace bid


US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday signaled his determination to launch a new Middle East peace bid in the coming days, warning the time to get a two state solution is drawing to a close. But he offered few details of how new peace talks might avoid the pitfalls that have led earlier efforts to collapse.

“What happens in the coming days will dictate what happens in the coming decades,” Kerry told a Washington conference of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Monday, as the State Department said that Kerry planned to make his fifth trip as Secretary to Israel, Ramallah and Jordan next week.

“Time is running out,” Kerry waned. “If we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.”

Kerry, in his first major speech to a US Jewish audience since becoming Secretary of State, called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas peace partners, who shared his commitment to reach a negotiated two state solution. While saying he understands why many in the region are skeptical the time is right to achieve a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, Kerry warned of the consequences of delay.

“Before anyone gives up hope, you have to ask if you are willing to live with a permanent conflict,” Kerry said. “A realistic one-state solution simply does not exist for either side.”

Many plugged-in US peace process veterans said they had little understanding of the details of Kerry’s initiative, while some Israeli observers expressed wariness that a fragile new peace effort, without the proper ground-work, was liable to collapse, potentially leading to violence.

Kerry “seems to think just talking to leaders and making speeches will make things happen,” a former senior State Department official, speaking not for attribution, said Monday. “He shows no appreciation for creating conditions for talks, not has he shown any understanding of the need to build a team or a coalition. He confides in nobody, has no real staff that is empowered, no conceptual thinkers under him, and is starting to appear desperate. That said, I sure hope he knows what he’s doing. Based on what I’ve seen, I have no reason to believe so. ”

The Israeli leadership wants peace, but “may be split between those who don’t believe the other side can deliver, and those who in addition are not yet ready [or] willing to put on the table what they know they’re going to do one day,” one Israeli official, speaking not for attribution, said Sunday.

“What they also want,” the Israeli official continued, “is a way to legitimately blame the Palestinians and not get blamed if it doesn’t happen now, which, to be fair, most think it won’t.”

“My guess is [Kerry] has no illusions about Netanyahu, and he knows President [Obama] will not expend heavy duty capital to rein him in,” one veteran Israeli peace activist, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Monday.

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Avineri: Israel behavior in sharp break with past

The Israeli government’s rapid expansion of settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank in the wake of the UN vote on Palestine has alarmed Israel’s allies in the United States and Europe and represents a sharp break with Israeli foreign policy strategy in the past, argues Shlomo Avineri in Haaretz:

In responding to the UN vote on Palestinian statehood, the government’s decision to build in E-1 and in East Jerusalem is the exact opposite of the underlying principles of how Zionist and Israeli international policies have evolved over the years. When Israel wins broader and deeper international support, it can achieve its aims, and when it is isolated it fails to achieve them.

What the government is doing now is not successfully challenging the Palestinian leadership. Rather it is engaging in unnecessary quarreling with Israel’s supporters in the democratic world – the United States and the European countries. It is not enough to think you are right and to convince your supporters of that: In the cruel world of international politics, a small nation can achieve its aims only if it is able to forge alliances with the powers-that-be and to ensure their support – not out of love, but because they are convinced there is congruence between their countries’ interests, or their leaders’ considerations, and the aims of, in this case, Zionism and the State of Israel. […] Continue reading

Roundup: Abbas’s ‘redline,’ McDonough mulled for WH chief of staff