INNOCENT ABROAD by Martin Indyk,
reviewed by Marc Schulman
NNOCENT ABROAD by Martin Indyk, gives an insider's look at the events in the Middle East during the Presidency of Bill Clinton. There is much to learn from this book, which covers the various peace negotiations that took place both between Israel and the Arab states and Israel the Palestinians. Indyk also gives a good overview of the Clinton dual containment policy toward Iran and Iraq. Indyk illuminates the Clinton Administration's attempt at outreach to Iran. That outreach took place at a time when the President of Iran was considered moderate. The hope was that there was an opening to moderate Iran’s positions. Indyk shows that all attempts at outreach failed. The one time there was a chance to reconcile with Iran was when the hardliners reached out after the US invasion of Iraq. The Bush Administration did not take that outreach seriously. Indyk indicated that the extremists outreached to the US when they were afraid of US power, once that period passed, they returned to their natural positions, which was to oppose the US whenever possible.
Indyk provides an excellent recap of the Clinton administration's attempt to contain Iraq. He is convinced containment was slowly failing and he believed it was only a matter of time until the US was forced to take action against Saddam. Despite his belief that it was only a matter of time until action needed to be taken against Saddam, he believes the Bush Administration rushed into war with Saddam needlessly. Their major failure was not getting broad international support before attacking Iraq.
The most interesting part of the book is Indyk’s involvement in the Arab-Israeli peace process. He was the US Ambassador to Israel during Rabin’s second term as Prime Minister. He returned to Washington after Netanyahu requested he be replaced, only to return again, when Barak became Prime Minister and requested that he return.
Indyk begins his book with a general discussion of the peace process and the role of the Arab states. In describing the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, he writes: So what Mubarak and Fahd really wanted was a peace process that would attenuate the conflict, but never quite resolve it. By the end of his administration Clinton would recognize it. In the meantime, Egyptian and Saudi officials would always manage to convince us that the gap between their encouraging rhetoric and their disappointing support for peace was a function of our inadequacies, rather than our own.
He then goes into a narrative of the Prime Minister Rabin’s attempt to reach an agreement with Syria. That agreement fell apart over the question of where the line of withdrawal from the Golan Heights was: whether it was the international boundary of 1923 or the lines on June 5, 1967 (the day the Six Day War began). When negotiations got bogged down over that issue, Rabin turned to the more promising negotiations with the Palestinians and ultimately signed the Oslo accords. Indyk, while pointing out matters of concern in the actions of Arafat after signing Oslo, believes that Yigal Amir clearly accomplished his goal in assassinating Rabin. With assistance from Hamas and Hezbollah, who engaged in bombing and missile attacks, Amir managed to stop the peace process, by convincing the Israeli public to elect Netanyahu as Prime Minister.
Indyk, who spent the days of the Netanyahu administration as the US undersecretary for the Middle East, did not go into depth on the peace process in this book on the period when Netanyahu was Prime Minister, devoting much of his time during this period to dealing with Iraq and Iran. When Barak becomes Prime Minister Indyk resumes his narrative of the peace process– when Barak begins his negotiations with Syria. At this point Assad, who was sick, made the decision he wanted to reach an agreement with Israel. He dropped his precondition for negotiations (Israel accepts the 1967 lines as a starting point) and negotiations began. Here it seems that Barak made a major tactical mistake and requested an exchange of territories to build a road. Assad was unwilling, and Barak who considered it a major negotiating tactic was unready to concede. It is interesting to note that one of the major issues that related to question of whether the 1923 borders or the 1967 borders are the ones that count had been resolved by time. The original 1967 boundaries ran all the way up to the lake of Galilee, therefore conferring on the Syrian certain water rights to the Lake. In the 40 years since the war, the lake has receded so even the '67 boundaries do not pose a problem relating to water rights. As a result of the boundary issue the Israeli-Syrian talks at Shepherdstown broke down. Barak was sure an agreement was possible within a short time of those negotiations, but the details of the negotiations (specifically the American proposal to bridge the which were suppose to be kept secret) were leaked to the Israeli press (most likely by an American critic of the Syrian first course (as opposed to negotiating with the Palestinians). Assad came under withering criticism for possibly agreeing to make peace, and with his health deteriorating, and his priority to ensure his son succeed him, Assad started getting cold feet. In a subsequent meeting with Clinton, in Geneva, when Barak was standing by to fly to Geneva and close the deal, Assad backed away from his willingness to agree to the peace agreement nearly completed. According to Indyk, Clinton who had been flying around the world was uncharacteristically not on the top of his game, and did not succeed in pressing him. A moment was lost and Assad was soon to die. Israel withdrew unilaterally from Lebanon, thus giving the Hezbollah and the entire rejectionists a major victory.
Barak then turned to Arafat and tried to negotiate a final status agreement. According to Indyk, Arafat had no interest in reaching an agreement, and was from the start, looking for ways to avoid Barak’s trap in reaching a final status agreement. At Camp David, Arafat used the issue of Jerusalem to undermine the talks. He insisted the Jews had no rights to the Temple Mount and would agree to no agreement that did not give him the full control and sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Arafat effectively ended the summit by using Jerusalem as a cover for not reaching agreement. He had hoped to be hailed a hero in the Arab world, but instead as Arafat traveled around the world being told he was wrong and needed to return to the negotiating table. Arafat then did what he knew best to do, resorted to violence. When violence broke out, hours after Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, instead of bringing it under control Arafat encouraged it. Even this did not stop Barak and Clinton from making one last attempt to reach an agreement. Clinton met with both Barak and Arafat. He crafted the grand compromise– Israel would give up sovereignty to the Temple Mount and the Palestinians would give up the right of return. Clinton stated this was his final non-negotiable proposition, Either the Israelis or Palestinians agreed to it (it also included returning 96% of the West Bank to the Palestinians, and there would be a Palestinian state and peace) or they could say no. Barak accepted the offer, Arafat asked for time, asked for clarification, and effectively said no. He could not get himself to make the grand bargain. This effectively brought an end to the peace talks (there was a later meeting in Taba, but that did not go beyond the terms Clinton presented). From that moment on, the very nature of any peace changed. While Rabin and even Barak, the first time around, wanted to withdraw from the West Bank in order to bring about peace, by the time Sharon or Olmert became involved in unilateral withdrawal it was not about peace, but about separation. Today, after bullets had been fired into Gilo from Bethlehem and after Israel withdrew from Gaza, only to find missile being fired at it, the number of Israelis who believe the Palestinians will live in peace with Israel is at its lowest numbers ever.
This book should be required reading for anyone who wishes to have an informed opinion on events in the Middle East these past two decades.
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