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Former U.S. Envoy Explains Why Mideast Peace Talks Collapsed In 2014


And if President Trump needs advice about where to start on a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, he may want to look at what went wrong when the Obama administration tried to broker a Middle East peace deal. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz this week reported on what it describes as American memos from early 2014 When then Secretary of State John Kerry was trying to negotiate a peace agreement. The memos detail what President Obama proposed to bridge the differences between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also known as Abu Mazen.

For the first time, a U.S. president said the Palestinians should have a capital in East Jerusalem. There would be a Palestinian right of return only to Palestine, not to Israel, which would be recognized as a Jewish state, although one that would respect the rights of its non-Jewish minority.

Why did it fail? Well, I asked former U.S. diplomat Martin Indyk, who was a key member of the Kerry team.

MARTIN INDYK: Well, I would say that while we made a massive effort to meet the basic needs of both sides in formulas that the two sides could accept, the bottom line was when we put them to Abu Mazen, he was not prepared to accept them. He was not prepared to answer. Let's put it that way. He didn't say yes or no.


INDYK: And so we never had the opportunity to test Prime Minister Netanyahu.

SIEGEL: Netanyahu would not have publicly said what he appears to have agreed to, which was a willingness to negotiate a territorial swap on the West Bank based on the 1967 borders. He seemed to be more flexible behind the scenes than he was in public at that point, wasn't he?

INDYK: Yes, he certainly appears to have been. You have to look at the formula to see that there were certain additional language that would have allowed him to argue for the incorporation of settlement blocks into Israel. But bear in mind that that was a different government, the government that he now has. And I don't think he could say the magic words based on the 1967 lines and keep his current coalition intact.

SIEGEL: So he's still the prime minister, but the parties in his government are a different group today than they were even in 2014. Did you have the impression that if the U.S. could deliver and Netanyahu would agree, did you think that in substance you had something that Mahmoud Abbas can live with, or is he - can he accept that personally, politically?

INDYK: Well, look. It was our judgment call that this met the minimum requirements of both sides, this meaning the document that we were working on. Essentially we really weren't able to test the proposition before the whole thing fell apart. In the end, it seemed they were further apart than they had been at the beginning.

And I think that's a salutary lesson for President Trump because beyond the political problems that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas have with their constituencies when it comes to making peace and making the very difficult concessions involved in getting to an agreement, the issues have calcified, and the parties have dug in. And what we thought were bridging proposals that were reasonable and met each side's needs I fear are not acceptable anymore to either side.

SIEGEL: Martin Indyk, former Middle East peace negotiator and U.S. diplomat and now executive vice president at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., thanks for talking with us.

INDYK: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.