Walk the line: The United States between Israel and the Palestinians

In a lively and wide-ranging debate that aired earlier this month on Al Jazeera English, Brookings Executive Vice President Martin Indyk sparred with Head to Head presenter Mehdi Hasan about American efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United States’ relationship with Israel.

Indyk began by stressing that American support for Israel is what gives the United States an influential role in the peace process and the leverage to encourage Israel to move towards peace. Indyk added that this does not mean that the United States should act as “Israel’s attorney” in the negotiations, and cited a promise he made to Palestinian leaders during the 2013-2014 peace talks led by Secretary of State John Kerry that Washington would not coordinate positions with Israel in advance. 

Brookings Executive Vice President Martin Indyk in a Head to Head interview with Al Jazeera English’s Mehdi Hassan.

He pointed out that the United States has traditionally relied on its close relationship with Israel to encourage its leaders to take steps for peace and make offers to the Palestinians, and that no other potential mediator has been able to produce serious offers from Israel. “[The United States is] not neutral, we don’t claim to be neutral. We have an alliance with Israel,” Indyk said. “But in order to achieve another interest that we have, which is peace in the region…and a settlement that provides for the legitimate national rights of the Palestinians, we need to be able to influence Israel.”

In responding to questions from Hasan and the audience, Indyk explained that he believes that both Israelis and Palestinians had made important concessions for peace, citing Israel’s acceptance of the Clinton Parameters in 2000, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s historic recognition of Israel as part of the Oslo Accords. Indyk also described the dramatic shifts in the way the United States has addressed the Palestinian issue over the past few decades, “from treating it only as a refugee issue and insisting that it be dealt with through Jordan to recognizing Palestinian national rights.” 

When asked about U.S. support for Israel at the United Nations, Indyk responded that this support is definitely warranted given the history of hostility towards Israel at the UN. However, he added that he personally wouldn’t oppose a carefully-worded resolution condemning Israeli settlements “so that the settlers in Israel understand that [settlement expansion] isn’t cost free.” Indyk rejected the notion that Israel has turned from a U.S. strategic asset in the Middle East into a burden, but explained that “making progress on the Palestinian issue enhances America’s credibility in the region and failing to make progress…hurts America’s credibility in the region.” 

Indyk concluded the discussion by reiterating his commitment to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace and emphasizing that he would “never give up on trying to resolve this conflict in a way that meets Palestinian legitimate national aspirations to an independent and viable contiguous state living alongside Israel, a Jewish state, in peace.”