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Indyk: Talks collapsed because sides lacked ‘urgency’

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed because neither party sees an urgency in making peace, Martin Indyk, the chief U.S. negotiator, said.

“Where is this sense of urgency today?” Indyk said in a speech Thursday to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank, his first public remarks since the Israel formally suspended the talks last month.

“One problem that revealed itself in these past nine months is that the parties, although both showing flexibility in the negotiations, do not feel the pressing need to make the gut-wrenching compromises necessary to achieve peace,” Indyk said. “It is safe to say that if we, the U.S., are the only party that has a sense of urgency, these negotiations will not succeed.”

In unusually blunt terms, Indyk excoriated both sides for bad faith.

“While serious efforts were underway behind closed doors, we tried to get the leaders and their spokesmen to engage in synchronized positive messaging to their publics,” he said.

“Instead, Prime Minister Netanyahu was understandably infuriated by the outrageous claims of Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator no less, that the prime minister was plotting the assassination of the Palestinian president,” Indyk said. “And Abu Mazen was humiliated by false Israeli claims that he had agreed to increased settlement activity in return for the release of prisoners.” Abu Mazen is the byname of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Indyk, who founded the Washington Institute in 1985, said he believed the Israeli settlement building announcements were intended to sabotage the peace process.

“I can tell you first hand that that had a very damaging effect, and by the way it was intended to have that damaging effect,” he said. “The promoters of the settlement activity are the ones who were adamantly opposed to the negotiations even though they were in a government that was committed to the negotiations.”

Indyk said settlements posed a “mortal” danger to Israel, leading it into an “irreversible binational reality.”

“Rampant settlement activity — especially in the midst of negotiations — doesn’t just undermine Palestinian trust in the purpose of the negotiations; it can undermine Israel’s Jewish future,” Indyk said. “If this continues, it could mortally wound the idea of Israel as a Jewish state — and that would be a tragedy of historic proportions.”

Indyk said the Obama administration stood at the ready to broker new negotiations, but the initiative must come from the parties.

“Let’s hope that President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu are able to overcome the hurdles that now lie on that path back to the negotiating table,” he said. “When they are ready, they will certainly find in Secretary Kerry and President Obama willing partners in the effort to try again — if they are prepared to do so in a serious way.”

Separately, Susan Rice, the U.S. national security adviser, met in Jerusalem and Ramallah with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas.

“As she did in her meetings with Israeli officials, Ambassador Rice emphasized with President Abbas the importance of each side managing the current situation in a way that reduces tensions and preserves space to pursue a two-state solution when both sides are prepared to take the decisions necessary to resume substantive negotiations,” a White House statement said.

Rice pledged continued U.S. funding for the Palestinians, an apparent pushback against calls in Congress to cut funding.

However, in an allusion to unity talks between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, Rice also warned that to receive assistance, Palestinian governments must recognize Israel and abide by previous peace agreements.

“She reiterated U.S. policy that any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties,” the White House statement said.

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