Former U.S. special envoy on why Israel and the Palestinians have to abandon the ‘status quo’
MARGARET WARNER: Martin Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel and State Department official, was the U.S. special envoy for the negotiations. Today, he returned to his job as vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Ambassador Indyk, thank you for having us.
MARTIN INDYK, Former U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations: Thanks.
MARGARET WARNER: After all these decades of peacemaking efforts, including your own, these eruptions between the Israelis and Palestinians seem to continue more frequently and more ferociously. Why is that?
MARTIN INDYK: Well, I think it’s something that Secretary Kerry was warning about when he started the whole effort to try to change the dynamic to a positive one which could lead to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, precisely that natures abhors a vacuum, particularly in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, and if you’re not moving forward, the vacuum gets filled by a very negative dynamic and extremists, who want to basically pursue the conflict.
And so that’s what we’re witnessing now. And, so, it’s horrendous when it happens, but it’s kind of indication of the chronic nature of the conflict that we were trying to break out of.
MARGARET WARNER: What will it take to end this current conflict?
MARTIN INDYK: Well, a cease-fire is the most important thing. And that has to happen as soon as possible.
And Secretary Kerry and President Obama’s support is now engaged in that effort. And, hopefully, it will be possible to get that in place. I don’t think the Israelis want to go the next step of a ground invasion of Gaza, because the big question then is, who do they withdraw in favor of? They already pulled out unilaterally, but they got the rockets in return.
So they will be willing to stop as soon as Hamas is ready to stop the rocket fire. And that’s the focus of the activity at the moment.
MARGARET WARNER: So why has Israel massed all those tanks on the border and brought all those troops to the border?
MARTIN INDYK: Well, I think, on the one hand, they want Hamas to understand that there are grave consequences if they don’t stop the rocket fire.
That’s the signal that they’re trying to send. But they don’t really want to go in. Prime Minister Netanyahu is very cautious when it comes to launching wars. And I think there’s a general understanding on the part of the public that there’s a whole world of hurt, not just for Palestinians, but for Israelis, if it ends up in a ground invasion.
So it’s really important to try to stop it, stop the rocket fire before that happens.
MARGARET WARNER: So you’re saying it’s a bluff on his part?
MARTIN INDYK: Well, it’s designed as a threat, that, if the bluff is called, then Hamas will pay the consequences.
But the Palestinians in Gaza will as well, and that would be a terrible thing.
MARGARET WARNER: There was a cease-fire negotiated in late 2012, and Egypt and the U.S. were heavily involved. Is that even possible today? Hasn’t the U.S. lost influence with the parties? And, certainly, hasn’t Egypt?
MARTIN INDYK: No.
There are things that Egypt can do here that nobody else can do. And Egypt and Israel and the Palestinian Authority have a common interest in seeing that Hamas not emerge as the victor, and indeed in seeing that the Palestinian Authority eventually take back control of Gaza from Hamas.
MARGARET WARNER: Does the U.S. have the influence it did two years ago?
MARTIN INDYK: Yes.
I don’t think that there’s any lack of influence on the part of the United States when it comes to trying to affect the party that’s on the other side here, which is Israel. But the issue is, how do you influence Hamas? How do you get Hamas to stop?
And that’s where Egypt, Qatar, Turkey can play a role, because they each have influence on Hamas. And so Secretary Kerry is working with all three to try to work — make that happen.
MARGARET WARNER: It seems to me as if you think this will follow the same pattern, that, ultimately, the neighbors will get involved, that a cease-fire will be negotiated. You don’t see a darker scenario unfolding here?
MARTIN INDYK: Well, the darker scenario would be if the rockets don’t stop and if Hamas decides that, for some reason, they want Israel to launch a ground invasion, and then perhaps suck them into a conflict in which Israel will get the blame for these casualties that will inevitably be caused there.
MARGARET WARNER: So, in a nutshell, why did this aggressive push you made for nine months fall apart?
MARTIN INDYK: What we discovered, in nine months of intensive negotiations, was that the United States was the only party that really wanted to change the status quo, that the two sides, for a whole range of different reasons, were not prepared to take the really painful and difficult decisions that would have led to a breakthrough, to ending this conflict.
And so you see that same thing playing itself out, not just in peacemaking, but also in war-making, that everybody wants to kind of return to the status quo, because the costs of changing the status quo are very high. And so that’s, at heart, the difficulty involved here.
MARGARET WARNER: You have spent your entire professional life working on Israel — issues that affect Israel’s security, viability as a Jewish state in that region.
Are you having any doubts now about that future, I mean, if this Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not solved?
MARTIN INDYK: I worry a lot about it.
If there’s no resolution of this conflict, there’s this — this chronic conflict which only becomes more chronic, and these periodic eruptions of violence that just create huge problems for both sides.
So, beyond that, there is the question, as you asked, of, what is the future of Israel as a Jewish democracy, if it doesn’t find a way from separating and making peace with the Palestinians? The demographic dynamic is such that Israel will sooner, rather than later, have to choose between being a Jewish state, because there will be a minority of Jews in the area that Israel controls, and being a democratic state.
And that’s a choice that Israel should never want to have to make.
MARGARET WARNER: So is the Israel that we have known in danger of either disappearing or being destroyed?
MARTIN INDYK: Look, I don’t believe it’s going to disappear or destroyed — be destroyed, either one of those.
I think it’s going to morph into something else over time. And the dilemmas are going to be very difficult to resolve. And they’re only getting more difficult to resolve over time. The window is closing, that the alternative of sticking with the status quo is not sustainable unless both sides are prepared to absorb huge costs and a future that looks like what we’re witnessing on a daily basis today.
But the two sides have to decide that the status quo is not sustainable, it’s not good enough for us to say it. And then, when they’re ready to change, ready to make those gut-wrenching compromises, then the United States will be with them.
MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Indyk, thank you.
MARTIN INDYK: Thank you.
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