(CNSNews.com) – Announcements of Israeli settlement expansion made during the U.S.-led Mideast peace effort that ended inconclusively last month were designed to sabotage the talks, according to the administration’s point man in the negotiations.
“The promoters of the settlement activity were the ones who were adamantly opposed to the negotiations, even though they were in a government that was committed to the negotiations,” Martin Indyk said Thursday night. “And it was that determination to use settlement activity as a way of sabotaging negotiations that succeeded.”
Answering questions after a speech at a Washington Institute for Near East Policy conference, Indyk recalled that at the outset of the nine-month peace drive, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had been unable to offer a settlement construction freeze as demanded by Abbas, because of the makeup of his fragile coalition.
“The prime minister chose instead to release these prisoners,” he said, referring to Netanyahu’s pledge to free 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners, in stages through the process.
“But Abu Mazen [Abbas] did not expect that it [the prisoner releases] would be accompanied in this way by these announcements” of planning for thousands of new Israeli homes on territory wanted by the P.A. as part of an independent state, Indyk said.
“The argument that was made publicly, repeatedly, by Israeli leaders that he had agreed to the settlement activity in exchange for the prisoner releases … that was a humiliation for him.”
“It wasn’t the only reason he shut down, but it was the major reason that he shut down towards the end of last year,” Indyk said. “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.”
In his speech, Indyk pointed to actions taken by both sides which he said had “undermined the process” launched by Secretary of State John Kerry last July. On the Palestinian side he said these included Abbas’ signing last month of accession letters to 15 international treaties and the announcement of a reconciliation agreement with the Gaza-based terrorist group, Hamas.
Although Kerry’s April 29 deadline has come and gone and talks were suspended following the deal with Hamas, Indyk said the peace process was not dead.
“Some have said this process is over. But that is not correct,” he said. “In the Middle East, it’s never over.”
Abbas’ price for returning to talks, he pointed out, was a three-month freeze on any settlement activity, both in the West Bank as well as in Jerusalem.
“Of course, Prime Minister Netanyahu can no more do a three-month construction freeze in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem [now] than he could at – before we started the negotiations, in the run-up to that, because that would collapse his government,” he said.
“So it’s not just that it sabotaged the negotiations, but it’s also a roadblock – one of the roadblocks – now to the resumption of the negotiations.”
Indyk also argued that Abbas now appears to be more focused on his legacy and succession than on securing a deal with Israel.