On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the appointment of twice US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk as the "US Special Envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations".
The announcement came as Palestine's chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, and his Israeli counterpart, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, were on their way to Washington to embark on tough discussions hoping to secure an eventual peace deal between the two sides.
In Kerry's announcement he said that Indyk brought to the table a "deep appreciation of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict", calling him a man who has made the cause of peace his life mission.
"He knows what has worked and he knows what hasn't worked, and he knows how important it is to get this right," said Kerry shortly before the talks were scheduled to start. This was possibly a reference to Indyk's role in the failed Camp David peace talks in 2000, during which he became the first United States ambassador to be stripped of a security clearance.
British-born and Australian-educated Indyk has had a long career focusing on the Middle East. He served as special assistant to President Bill Clinton and senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs at the National Security Council between 1993 and 1995. He was US ambassador to Israel from 1995 to 1997, and again for a further year in 2000. He was also assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs in the State Department from 1997 to 2000.
Prior to the appointment Indyk was vice president and director of Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institute – a foreign policy think tank – in Washington. However his work as deputy research director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) during the 1980s stands out most from his record. AIPAC is the most influential pro-Israel lobby group advocating stronger ties between the US and Israel.
"I am pleased that Ambassador Martin Indyk will lead the US negotiating team as US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations," said Barack Obama. "Ambassador Indyk brings unique experience and insight to this role, which will allow him to contribute immediately as the parties begin down the tough, but necessary, path of negotiations".
While his depth of experience is evident, Kerry's decision to appoint a clearly pro-Israel special envoy to shepherd the fragile talks has been criticised by some observers who doubt his ability to remain neutral.
During a heated exchange with Professor Norman Finkelstein on US news programme "Democracy Now!" on the thirteenth day of Operation Cast Lead, Israel's brutal assault on Gaza, Indyk was pulled up by Finkelstein over a number of factual errors.
"There was a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, Hamas decided to break the ceasefire," claimed Indyk during the interview. Finkelstein corrected him, pointing out that, in fact, Israel had broken the ceasefire. Indyk called Prof Finkelstein a "propaganda spokesperson of Hamas" and rebutted the author's reference to international laws violated by Israel he accusing him of distorting the argument with his "usual paraphernalia of legal resolutions".
Indyk will be assisted in his role by Frank Lowenstein, a former Senate Foreign Relations committee chief of staff and foreign policy advisor to John Kerry.
"I am deeply honoured to serve you and to serve President Obama in your noble endeavour to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace," announced Indyk following his appointment. "It's been my conviction for 40 years that peace is possible."