Kerry may tap Indyk as peace envoy

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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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The Closer: Why Ron Dermer may be Bibi’s perfect peace envoy


Ron Dermer, Israel’s next envoy to the United States, may be a sharp-elbowed Republican partisan who appeared to openly back Barack Obama’s opponent in the 2012 presidential campaign, and who has lived longer in the United States than he has in Israel, as Akiva Eldar wrote this week for Al-Monitor.

Other observers of US-Israel relations say while this may be true, it is not the full picture and misses the point. Dermer’s appointment, in this score, is not at all controversial. He has the ear of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — the gold standard for any ambassador. Dermer, because of his understanding of US politics and ties to the GOP, may be the perfect envoy to sell peace to the right if Netanyahu decides to get serious about negotiations, as many Israeli analysts suspect he is preparing to do.

“All signs point to the possibility that Netanyahu is relatively serious about going back to negotiations and attempting to do something,” Shmuel Rosner, an Israeli journalist and political analyst told me Wednesday.

“It is customary to say in Israel that it is easier for left-wing governments to make war, and right-wing governments to make peace,” Rosner said. “If you think about the Israeli ambassador to the US, and …the case in which the Obama administration attempts to advance some sort of peace process or any other controversial policy with the right wing, if Dermer stands behind the policy and endorses it, it will be much easier both for the government of Israel and for the [U.S.] administration to let this policy pass in the Congress.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry, currently on his sixth visit to the Middle East, looks increasingly close to realizing his goal of getting Israeli Palestinian peace talks re-launched, many observers believe.

“For the Obama administration, this makes Dermer more important,” Rosner said. “It also makes him a tool with which to devise a policy that Congress and the opposition cannot truly oppose.”

“For Bibi, it’s a good choice,” said Amir Radberg, an Israeli-American who previously worked as a legislative analyst at the Israeli embassy in Washington from 1993-2003. “If he continues with his current agenda, he will have an eloquent speaker to argue for him. If he needs to sell peace to the GOP and right-wing Jews, [Dermer] will handle them much better than a professional diplomat.”

In many ways, Dermer, 42, is a mirror image of Dan Shapiro, Obama’s highly-regarded ambassador to Israel. Shapiro, 44, previously served as the Obama campaign’s liaison to the Jewish community and as Obama’s first term White House Middle East advisor. As such, Shapiro is an avowed Obama/Democratic partisan with a close personal and direct tie to the president, who is known to Israeli interlocutors to be speaking for the president. Similarly, Dermer, a longtime political advisor to Netanyahu, is a partisan who has the trust of the Prime Minister, and can speak for him.

“The fact that he is close to Netanyahu is a huge advantage,” Rosner said. “When people in the administration talk to the ambassador, the first and most important thing for them to know is that their conversation has some value. To speak to someone who has no sway with Israeli government, is a waste of time. And speaking to Dermer will not be waste of time.”

Meantime, Rosner notes, there are many signs that Netanyahu is serious about entering into peace negotiations with the Palestinians. “The noose is getting tighter,” Rosner said. “Politically speaking, he’s in big trouble within his own party. However, if he doesn’t do anything about the peace process, he will have even bigger trouble with his coalition and the public.”

“It’s better for him to pursue something in the hope that if his approval ratings go up, his party will somehow cave,” Rosner said. “Or he can do what [former Israeli Prime Minsiter Ariel] Sharon did a couple years ago: abandon his party and move to the center. Just leaving things as they are now almost guarantees that this will be his last term as prime minister.”

(Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ron Dermer. Photo credit, Dudi Vaaknin, courtesy of Israeli government press office.)

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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Israel names Ron Dermer next envoy to Washington

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday named his longtime political advisor Ron Dermer Israel's next ambassador to the United States.

“Ron Dermer has all the qualities necessary to successfully fill this important post,” Netanyahu said in a press release posted at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

The American-born Dermer, 42, has served as Netanyahu's senior adviser the past four years, and previously served as an economic attache at the Israeli embassy in Washington.

An Israeli diplomat said it's useful, given the importance of the US-Israel  relationship, for the Prime Minister to appoint a Washington envoy whom he trusts.

“It has always been the Prime Minister 's prerogative to appoint our ambassador to the USA, partially because of the importance of the position and the need for it to be someone the PM trusts and who has the PM's ear,” he said, speaking not for attribution. “Israel's professional diplomats work well with any appointment.”

Dermer will succeed diplomat and historian Michael Oren, who announced last week that he plans to step down in the fall after representing Israel in Washington since 2009.

(Photo of Israeli  Prime Minister and advisor Ron Dermer, Israel Government Press  Office.)

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Israel's US envoy Michael Oren to step down

img class=”alignright” alt=”” src=”https://profile-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hprofile-frc1/c44.44.553.553/s160x160/68747_115428941854182_4636361_n.jpg” width=”160″ height=”160″ />Israel's ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said Friday he will step down in the fall, after serving in the post for four years.

“After more than four years, during which I had the honor of serving as Israel's ambassador to our most important ally, the United States of America, I will conclude my term this fall,” Oren said in a statement sent out by the Israeli embassy Friday.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the State of Israel and its Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the United States, President Barack Obama, the Congress, and the American people,” he said.

Oren, a US-born historian, previously told Al-Monitor in an interview he was interested to write another book. A spokesperson at the embassy said he did not immediately know what his next plans are.

Israeli media reported in recent days that Netanyahu political advisor Ron Dermer may be named the next Israeli envoy to the US. The US-born Dermer emigrated to Israel from Florida in 1998, and has previously served as an economics advisor in Israel's US embassy, the Times of Israel said.

(Top photo: Ambassador Michael Oren, from his Facebook page. Bottom photo: Amb. Oren, playing the Irish drums, joined Iranian-Israeli singer Rita Jahanforuz and her band in a performance at a dinner at his residence November 12, 2013. Photo Credit: Shmulik Almany, courtesy of the Embassy of Israel in Washington.

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Roundup: Hale for Lebanon, Palestinian PM reconsiders resigning; US trained Syria rebels

  • President Obama on Friday nominated Middle East peace envoy David Hale US Ambassador to Lebanon, as previously reported was in the works.
  • POTUS nominated Mike Hammer, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and former NSC spokesman, to be US ambassador to Chile. Hammer has served the last two years as the spokesman for the US delegation to the P5+1 talks with Iran.
  • Who might be in Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet?
  • The text (.pdf) of Hassan Rouhani’s 2005 speech, “Beyond the Challenges Facing Iran and the IAEA concerning the Nuclear Dashboard.”
  • Rouhani reportedly changed his family name from Feridoun to evade the Shah’s secret police (Rouhani means “cleric.”)
  • Little is known about Rouhani’s wife, but her name apparently has been discovered: Sahebe Arabi.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informs the Washington Post, in an interview, that Rouhani wrote a book.
  • Israel tries to game Rouhani: Ben Caspit.
  • Shlomi Eldar on Israel’s nuclear option for peace.
  • Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah reportedly reconsiders his resignation.
  • Palestinian leaders’ dilemma.
  • Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird reverses himself on “meaningless” Iran elections, offers congratulations.
  • US CIA and military operatives have been secretly training Syrian rebels how to use anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons since last November.

(Photo: Hassan Rouhani campaigns on his plane in northwest Iran on June 10, 2013. AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Israeli lawmakers, in letter, throw support to Kerry peace efforts

The head of a coalition of some three dozen Israeli lawmakers has written U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praising his Middle East peacemaking efforts and urging him to persevere, despite push-back from some members of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

“We are writing to you to inform you of the formation of the Knesset Caucus for Ending the Israeli-Arab Conflict, and to convey our gratitude and support to you for your continuing diplomatic effort to revitalize the Arab-Israeli peace process,” Israeli deputy speaker of the Knesset Hilik Bar wrote in the letter to Sec. Kerry, dated June 5th. The Caucus, formed last month, “stands ready as your willing and able partner in our shared mission to get to Two States for Two Peoples.”

Kerry, in remarks to the American Jewish Committee (AJC) this week, “asked the audience there to 'seize the moment'…; we here in the Knesset aim to do just that,” Bar's letter continued. “As you articulated so eloquently…Israel’s survival as a secure, democratic and Jewish homeland depends on the realization of a final-status agreement that creates two-states for people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”

Bar's letter, published in full below the jump, comes as a counter-point to remarks by Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon Wednesday, warning that the Israeli government would vote to reject any two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

“If you will bring it [the two state solution] to a vote in the government…you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it,” Danon said in an interview with the Times of Israel Wednesday.

“What happens in the coming days will dictate what happens in the coming decades,” Kerry told the AJC in a speech Monday (June 3rd). “If we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.”

The Knesset pro two-state coalition currently counts about 40 members, from the Labor, Hatenu'a, Shas, Yesh Atid, Hadash, Hatnua and Meretz parties, according to a list provided to Al-Monitor. It has the support of Israeli cabinet ministers Tzipi Livni, Yaakov Perry and opposition chair and Labor party leader Shelly Yechimovich.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a query about whether Kerry had received the letter, or his reaction to it.

Kerry is expected to travel to Israel, Ramallah and Jordan yet again next week – his fifth trip to the region since becoming Secretary of State. Kerry, in his remarks to the AJC, highlighted the Arab League's reissuing of the Arab Peace Initiative last month, and its new position endorsing possible land-swaps in an agreement on the borders for a Palestinian state.

Newly joining Frank Lowenstein in aiding Kerry’s efforts in the State Department office of the Middle East peace envoy is former Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Pentagon Middle East advisor Ilan Goldenberg, sources tell the Back Channel.

Full letter from MK Hilik Bar to Sec. Kerry, not previously published, below the jump: Continue reading

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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