In 2010, US envoy said Netanyahu lacks ‘generosity of spirit’

In recently declassified email, Martin Indyk said fear of appearing a sucker prevents PM from compromising with Palestinians

Former US special envoy Martin Indyk (Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)
Former US special envoy Martin Indyk (Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to “lack a generosity of spirit” with regard to peace talks with the Palestinians, and a fear of being considered a “sucker” by his public inhibits him from making concessions and complicates the negotiation process, then-American envoy to Israel Martin Indyk wrote in a 2010 email recently declassified by the US State Department.

“The process of bringing [Netanyahu] down to a reasonable price uses up a lot of energy, uses up a lot of goodwill, humiliates his Palestinian negotiating partner, and raises doubts about his seriousness,” according to Indyk, who served as a senior member of the Brookings Institution at the time the email was sent.

“In the end, under great pressure from all quarters, he will make the final concession, but only after wasting a lot of time, making everybody furious with him, and thereby securing no credit either with his supporters or negotiating partners,” the email continued.

“At heart, he seems to lack a generosity of spirit. This combines with his legendary fear of being seen as a ‘freier’ (sucker) in front of his people to create a real problem in the negotiations, especially because he holds most of the cards.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his meeting with United States Senator John Kerry in Jerusalem, June, 2010. (Photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets then-senator and current Secretary of State John Kerry in Jerusalem, June 2010. (Photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

Indyk recommended that American officials convey their support for Netanyahu in order to assure that the Middle East peace process moves forward.

“Put your arm around [Netanyahu,] he still thinks we are out to bring him down,” Indyk advised State Department representatives. “There is no substitute for working with him, even though he makes it such a frustrating process.”

He emphasized, however, that “the purpose of embracing [Netanyahu] is to nudge him forward, not to buy into his exaggerated political fears or accept his inflated demands.

“As his friend, paint a realistic picture of the strategic consequences of his negotiating tactics, particularly in terms of what is likely to happen to the PA leadership if he worries only about his politics and not at all about [Mahmoud Abbas’s] politics,” Indyk continued.

“If all else fails, avoid recriminations in favor of a ‘clarifying moment.’ The world will of course blame [Netanyahu]. But you should avoid any kind of finger-pointing in favor of a repeated commitment to a negotiated solution and a willingness to engage with both sides in trying to make that happen, when they’re ready. The Israeli public and the American Jewish Community should know how far [President Barack Obama] was prepared to go and they should be allowed to draw their own conclusions. [Netanyahu], [Abbas], and the Arab states need negotiations and time is not on the side of any of them. They will come back to the table sooner rather than later as long as we keep the door open,” he concluded.

Earlier this year, Indyk, who served as the Obama administration’s special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace in 2013 and 2014, assessed in a interview with Israel’s Channel 2 that Netanyahu suffers from dysfunctional relationships with world leaders, citing tensions between Netanyahu and European leaders otherwise seen as Israel-friendly.

“It’s that mutual lack of trust which has poisoned the relationships,” Indyk said.

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