Indyk's Interview

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It's quite something, full of candor and some truly fascinating details about the past with the Israeli paper, Yediot Achronth. It also has some great bons mots like the following:

“Bibi can’t behave with Washington like the boy who killed his parents and then asked for mercy because he was an orphan."

“The Israelis are the ones who taught us that there are no sacred dates. Israel’s governments broke every possible deadline in their talks with the Arab world. The question is not the target date, it is whether there is progress in the negotiations. To a certain degree, the Israeli policy is sabotaging the campaign against Iran."

"How exactly can the Palestinians destroy you? The real existential danger is that you will not succeed in parting from them."

This kind of frankness is rare in Washington, where the discourse is constrained by the fact that anyone saying similar things here will be accused of anti-Semitism or self-hating Jewishness if they do. But Indyk's passion for Israel is not in question; the same could be said for many of us eager to see Israel's future secured. There's also a riveting account of what really happened at the end of the Clinton administration:

YA: You describe in your book what happened in 2000, we said, how Ehud Barak and Shlomo Ben-Ami placed generous proposals on the table that Arafat rejected one after another. Could this have been managed differently?

Indyk: “Yes, it could have been done differently. The joint strategy, ours and yours, was Syria first. At the Shepherdstown conference of January 2000, when we missed the chance to reach an agreement with the Syrians, Arafat experienced a turnabout. Until then, he was afraid of being left behind. After the failure with the Syrians, Barak and Clintonas President Bush rightfully saidcourted Arafat desperately. Had there been an agreement with Syria, the equation would have been different.

I write in the book that for seven years, Hafez Assad was interested in the process, not the outcome, but before his death he underwent a change: he wanted to reach a deal. The fact is that over the years, he refused to send a senior figure to direct negotiations with Israel. Prior to his death, he sent his foreign minister Farouk Ashara to the talks.

When Ashara came to Washington to negotiate with Barak, we dealt with the question why he did not shake his hand and why he condemned Israel in his speech, and ignored the most important thing he said: it is a dispute over borders, not an existential conflict. The Syrians were prepared for a series of compromises. People who read my book say that Barak did not have the courage to complete an agreement with the Syrians. Barak is a courageous man, there is no argument about that. The problem was the timing. The moment to finalize an agreement with Assad was between December 1999 and February 2000. Had Barak risen to the occasion at the right moment, it would have changed everything.”

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