US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday announced the appointment of former ambassador Martin Indyk to serve as US envoy for Mideast peace and the top American negotiator for the peace talks set to open in Washington, DC.
“Going forward it is no secret this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago,” Kerry told reporters Monday, with Indyk at his side, adding “it is no secret, therefore, that many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues.”
President Barack Obama praised the appointment Monday, saying: “Ambassador Indyk brings unique experience and insight to this role, which will allow him to contribute immediately as the parties begin down the tough, but necessary, path of negotiations.
“The most difficult work of these negotiations is ahead, and I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith and with sustained focus and determination,” the president said in a statement released by the White House.
Indyk, standing next to Kerry, described the appointment as “a daunting and humbling challenge, but one that I cannot desist from.”
“It’s been my conviction for 40 years that peace is possible since I experienced the agony of the 1973 Yom Kippur War as a student in Jerusalem,” said Indyk. “In those dark days, I witnessed firsthand how one of your predecessors, Henry Kissinger, brokered a ceasefire that ended the war and paved the way for peace between Israel and Egypt.”
He promised that he would work “to achieve President Obama’s vision of two states living side by side in peace and security.”
Indyk recounted that in 1998, his then-teenaged son put a screensaver on his computer. “It consisted of a simple question that flashed across the screen constantly: Dad, is there peace in the Middle East yet? I guess you could say, Mr. Secretary, that he was one of the original skeptics. But behind that skepticism was also a yearning. And for 15 years, I’ve only been able to answer him, “Not yet.”
Indyk’s appointment to the post surprised few — his name has been mentioned for the past week as the only real candidate for the post. The London-born diplomat who is currently the vice president and director for foreign policy at the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution is no stranger to Israel-Palestinian negotiations.
Kerry praised Indyk, saying he “brings to this challenge his deep appreciation for the conflict, and the art of US diplomacy in the Middle East.”
The US secretary of state said the former ambassador “shares my belief that if leaders on both sides show willingness to reasonably compromise, then peace is possible.”
During the Oslo peace talks in the 1990s, Indyk served twice as president Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Israel, and once in the post he now re-assumes as top Middle East peace envoy.
The choice of Indyk has come under fire by some critics of the peace process, on the left and the right, because of his association with the failures of the Oslo process.
Kerry alluded to this: “He knows what has worked and he knows what hasn’t worked,” he said, as Indyk laughed and winced.
On the left, JStreet President Jeremy Ben-Ami was quick to applaud the appointment. “The negotiations ahead promise to be tough and will require active, determined and creative US leadership and diplomacy if they are to succeed,” Ben-Ami wrote in a statement minutes after Kerry’s announcement. “Ambassador Indyk can bring all these attributes to the task. Secretary of State John Kerry could not have chosen a more qualified envoy.”
In addition to the Indyk appointment, State Department officials confirmed Monday that longtime Kerry confidant Frank Lowenstein and Obama foreign policy advisor Phillip Gordon will also have central roles in the negotiations.
Gordon served as a senior foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama during his first presidential campaign. After Obama’s 2008 victory, he was appointed to be assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, a position he has held ever since.
Lowenstein has worked with Kerry for even longer – he joined his campaign in 2004. He is one of Kerry’s closest advisors on Mideast issues and traveled with the secretary of state on his shuttle-diplomacy trips to Israel. He worked in the office of David Hale, the acting envoy for Middle East peace who filled the gap between the departure of George Mitchell and Monday’s appointment of Indyk.
JTA contributed to this report