Dr. Martin Indyk will likely head the American delegation to peace talks between Israel and Palestinians, diplomatic sources said Sunday. Indyk, born in London and educated in Australia, twice served as the American ambassador to Israel.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday that both the Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to a “framework” for the resumption of talks. The Palestinians, however, have yet to confirm their participation.
Indyk, who currently directs the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., also served as assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, special assistant to the president, and senior director for Near East and South Asia in the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration. He started his career in America working for AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying organization, and served as ambassador to Israel from 1995 to 1997 and from 2000 to 2001.
One of the major incentives for the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table is to be a phased release by Israel of some 80 veteran security prisoners who have all served at least 20 years of their sentences. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not bring a vote on the release of the prisoners before his entire cabinet, but instead plans to turn to the seven-minister security cabinet, where he is assured support for the key gesture, Channel 10 reported Sunday night. The smaller forum includes Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, Home Front Minister Gilad Erdan, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.
The prisoners are expected to be released in four phases — one phase every four months — as talks progress. Many of the prisoners, incarcerated before the Oslo Accords in 1993, were personally involved in the murder of Israelis. Families of the victims were preparing to fight the decision to release the prisoners.
Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres lauded the announcement that talks would resume, in remarks at an Iftar dinner breaking the Ramadan fast Sunday at his official residence in Jerusalem.
“I want to praise the two leaders who decided to renew the peace process: my friend, Palestinian Authority President [Mahmoud Abbas], who stands bravely and who I think will be the father of the Palestinian state…[and] the Israeli prime minister Mr. Netanyahu who took a brave decision that wasn’t easy,” he said.
“Without peace it is impossible to exist… I know there are doubters, — don’t hear them. There are speeches that make noise — don’t listen to them. They’re not telling the truth; the truth is in our hearts,” he said.
The deputy secretary-general of the Arab League for Palestinian issues, Mohammed Sabih, was decidedly less optimistic than the Israeli president. Though he expressed on Sunday night the Arab League’s support for Kerry’s efforts to bring the two sides together, he also declared his mistrust of Netanyahu’s intentions. “The complete lack of faith from the Arab League in the Israeli side is the result of years of foot-dragging and fruitless negotiations.
“Many in the Israeli government don’t want the Arab peace initiative,” he asserted, adding that a new round of talks might be the “last chance to revive the peace process.”
Palestinian officials refused to confirm that the talks would begin.
Abbas has not spoken about the possible resumption of negotiations since Kerry’s announcement Friday. In an attempt to restrict official Palestinian comment, Abbas’s office said only two top aides, Nabil Abu Rdeneh and Yasser Abed Rabbo would be allowed to speak to reporters.
Abed Rabbo said early Sunday that the Palestinian leadership has not yet decided to return to negotiations with Israel and will only do so if its basic demands are met. He told Palestinian radio that the PA leadership was currently engaged in dialogue with the American administration, and would only announce the resumption of negotiations depending on the outcome of those talks.
Netanyahu himself was more hopeful, but still sounded a note of caution. “It won’t be easy,” Netanyahu warned at the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday morning, “but we’re going into the negotiations with integrity and honesty.”
He added that he hoped “the process will be responsible, serious and to the point — and in its initial stages, also discreet.”
Kerry also promised discretion while announcing the new talks on Friday. A number of leaks have already added some confusion, with Palestinian officials claiming Kerry promised them in writing that the talks would be conducted based on the 1967 lines, which Israel has denied.
Israeli sources say the talks are set to last from 9 to 12 months. Israel would be represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Netanyahu envoy Yitzhak Molcho and the Palestinians by veteran negotiator Saeb Erekat. Kerry said Friday he expected the talks to resume in Washington next week, but Israeli officials said logistics might require a further week of preparation.
Haviv Rettig Gur and the Associated Press contributed to this report.