The shambolic US-led “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is finally getting the kind of recognition it deserves. After nearly a dozen fruitless visits to the region, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that it was time to take stock, while Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni complained that too much time is wasted negotiating with Americans rather than Palestinians. Meanwhile, for exercising its legal rights (nonviolently), the New York Times labeled the Palestinian Authority “defiant,” more evidence that many of the so-called mainstream journalists serve as their governments enablers, if not participants, in pursuing this ridiculous diplomatic pageantry.
Cynical as I may seem, I base my views as an observer to America’s commandeering of Arab-Israeli peacemaking, having spent two years researching for a book on the failure of the peace talks at the end of President Bill Clinton’s tenure. After conducting recorded interviews with more than 40 Arab, Israeli, American, and European participants, I concluded that the Clinton team was as much to blame as either Israelis or Palestinians for torpedoing the 1993 Oslo peace process. I recall, vividly, Israeli officials telling me that American bias toward Israel ironically worked against them, even as the US thought it was helping. This was especially true during the Camp David 2000 summit. The Clinton team was expected to present a summary document with positions to resolve the core issues of Jerusalem, Refugees, Security and Borders. But when it did so on the third summit night, Palestinians discovered their US hosts had moments before amended its ideas during a vetting session with Israel. The handwritten changes Israel insisted upon was enough to confirm their worst of suspicions. This was a far cry from the US approach during the historic Camp David 1978 summit, where American positions really were American. Now they were Israel’s and the Palestinians knew it!
America’s pro-Israel establishment – from think tanks to journalists – continue to ignore these facts, much less learn from them. So in 2011, when multiple Palestinian sources entrusted me with the largest trove in existence of leaked confidential records of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, I sought the option of looking beyond an American audience by opening them up to the entire world.
Known as the “Palestine Papers,” Al Jazeera published the more than 1,600 files along with the Guardian newspaper over a four-day period. With the click of a mouse, the entire world was able to download and read the minutes of hundreds of meetings held under the aegis of the Bush administration and its so-called “Annapolis process.” After studying its contents alongside some of the best journalists on the subject, the fingerprints of failure were unmistakable and traceable.
Nonetheless, here we are in 2014, when profound change, revolution and sectarian violence characterize the Middle East like never before, and the older, grayer and not noticeably wiser members of the old Clinton “peace team” are still making their mark. I refer in particular to Martin Indyk, the current US Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, who was appointed to this position in 2013. Indyk is a former AIPAC deputy director who volunteered to serve the Israeli government during the 1973 war. He was seen as so close to the Israeli Labor Party that his ambassadorship to Tel Aviv was cut prematurely short by the 1996 election of Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu. Indyk may have paved over his pro-Israeli past with most by affiliating himself with the Brookings Institution since leaving his first stint in government in 2001. But there is no evidence that he’s evolved from the man who assured AIPAC in 1998 that “even-handedness is not in our lexicon.”
AIPAC has proven fertile recruiting ground for American peace processors through its think-tank spinoff, known in Washington as WINEP or the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs. It was from here that Indyk enlisted David Makovsky, a WINEP staffer and former Jerusalem Post executive editor, to “serve as a strategist” in the peace talks. Providing Makovsky trusted counsel is his former WINEP colleague and friend Dennis Ross, another failed Arab-Israeli mediator whose pro-Israeli credentials scored him a White House position crafting Iran policy until 2011 (which raises the question whether the US finally succeeded in Geneva this spring because of his absence). In WINEP’s first 1985 publication, it was Ross who essentially wrote the job description for not only himself but Indyk as well. He advocated for the appointment of a “non-Arabist Special Middle East Envoy” who would not “feel guilty about our relationship with Israel and our reluctance to force Israeli concessions.”
So how has all that bias been working out?
Indeed, it would be time well spent if Secretary Kerry meditated on past failures rather than mediating new ones. Ridding the US diplomacy of its failed peace processors has never been attempted. Isn’t it time to try something new?
Clayton Swisher is manager of investigative journalism with Al Jazeera Media Network, and author of “The Truth About Camp David” and “The Palestine Papers”. The views in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera Editorial Policy.
This article was first published on The Huffington Post