Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could be a partner for peace “tomorrow” if Israel were to impose a freeze on settlement construction, former US special envoy Martin Indyk said Thursday.
Speaking at Haaretz newspaper’s peace conference in Tel Aviv, the former envoy also conceded that the previous round of peace negotiations in 2014, in which he played a role, were a “magnificent failure.”
Abbas “could become a partner tomorrow for the deal you’d like to make if there was a settlement freeze,” he said. “Why not freeze the settlements? Does it affect your security?”
Indyk added that he believed settlements were one of the major issues preventing peace, contrary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stance on the matter.
“I can tell you, from personal experience, they [the settlements] are the problem,” Indyk said.
The former ambassador said that Israelis must stop viewing themselves as victims, and accept that they have responsibility toward the Palestinian population. “What does it mean to be actors in your own fate? It means to have some generosity to the other side, even though they are the most difficult of partners to have. But you have the ability to make them partners.”
The former envoy went on to stress that though there are many reasons the 2014 peace push failed, “the heart of the matter is trust.” He claimed that people on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides did not trust on another, did not press their leaders, and that the leaders themselves had a “toxic relationship.”
“The combination was a deadly combination,” he said.
Indyk said he believes US involvement in the peace process, which allows it to be “Israel’s second line of defense,” is essential. “When you put your arm around someone, it gives reassurance,” he said, but it also allows you “to give a little nudge.”
Earlier Thursday, Tony Blair, a former envoy for the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers, said that dialogue with Hamas in the interest of unifying the Palestinian political leadership was “worth trying,” and maintained that the terror group’s stance on Israel could be changed.
The former British prime minister further urged a regional Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in the form of “a revised and updated” Arab Peace Initiative, which would include a withdrawal to the 1967 lines with land swaps. He also backed up Netanyahu’s assertions that moderate Arab states are increasingly warming up to Israel amid increasing turmoil in the Middle East.
Blair maintained that the current Palestinian leadership was too fractured to reach a peace deal with Israel, thus requiring regional backing.
Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.