Published On: Wed, Aug 27th, 2014

Martin Indyk: Gaza Conflict Had ‘Very Negative Impact’ on the Obama-Netanyahu Relationship

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According to Former U.S. Mideast peace envoy Martin Indyk, the Gaza conflict has had “a very negative impact” on the U.S.-Israel relationship.

“There’s a lot of strain in the relationship now. The personal relationship between the president and the prime minister has been fraught for some time and it’s become more complicated by recent events, ” he says.

Speaking to Foreign Policy on Tuesday, Indyk said the fundamentals of the relationship remain strong, “but there are things happening in the relationship that should give people who care about the relationship – as I do – anxiety. There was a Pew poll that showed a generational shift, with younger people being less supportive of Israel. It also showed a political shift, with Democrats being less supportive of Israel, [and] Republicans staying the same in terms of their strong support.”

Indyk suggests that “over time Israel may find itself in a very different situation than it’s gotten used to. If Israel becomes a partisan issue in American politics, the U.S.-Israel relationship will then be weaker as a result. And if the next generation is less supportive than the current generation – and I fear that that will be true amongst younger American Jews as well as more broadly – then that will erode the fundamentals of the relationship over time.”

Indyk told Foreign Policy he believes that much has changed in Israeli-Palestinian realities, as well, that Israel’s leaders and their Palestinian counterparts may be the last to recognize.

He sees a rising generation of Palestinians who simply accept that a two-state solution is possible, and prefer instead to become Israeli citizens.

He also believes Israel is becoming less dependent on the United States, cultivating a new set of global alliances which may change radically the way it behaves in the future.

He also seed the likelihood that Israel’s battle with Hamas aligns it with its Arab neighbors who are terrified by their own extremists.

In short, as FP’s CEO and Editor David Rothkopf puts it, “recent events may amount to nothing less than a strategic earthquake.”

Martin Sean Indyk is the Vice President and Director for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. He took leave to serve as U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli–Palestinian Negotiations from 2013 to 2014. He served as United States ambassador to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs under President Clinton.

Indyk believes the one clear outcome of the 50-day war with Hamas has been that “the Israelis look at Gaza and what’s happened there and understandably say, ‘We cannot allow such a thing to happen in the West Bank.’ And therefore, today there’s a lot more credibility to the argument that the IDF has to stay in the West Bank, otherwise Israelis fear there will be tunnels into Tel Aviv and there will be rockets on Ben Gurion Airport, and Hamas will take over and they’ll face a disaster in the ‘belly’ of Israel. ”

The Gaza war, Indyk says, “may have put another nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.”

Indyk sees a great weakening in Netanyahu’s popularity, which may mean another shift to the right in israel’s politics.

“The poll that showed strong support – 82 percent support – was conducted before the ground operation, ” he explains. “But the sentiment in Israel, the popular sentiment, was to go all the way, to topple Hamas, to take over Gaza, and then somehow hand it over to the Palestinian Authority. People wanted a victory, and ‘quiet for quiet’ is not a victory and probably isn’t going to be attainable. If [Israelis] end up with a war of attrition, and every time rockets are fired they have to go into the air raid shelters, I’m afraid that they’re going to blame their leadership for not achieving their preferred outcome.”

An Israeli TV poll on Monday showed Netanyahu’s support eroding dramatically to 38.

Indyk sees Netanyahu’s base eroding further because of the declining growth in the Israeli economy, “to the point that there’s now talk about an Israeli recession.”

However, despite its current economic issues, which correspond to the same problems worldwide, Indyk thinks “Israel is not anymore the weak and small and dependent state that for so long characterized its position in its relationship with the United States. Now it has a strong army. It has a strong economy. And it has developed relations with world powers that it didn’t have before.”

And so, Indyk sees Israeli politicians on the right standing up to the United States as “a cheap way to assert their independence and patriotism.”

“I don’t remember a situation before where right-wing Israeli politicians could disparage the United States’ leadership and yet gain popularity, ” Indyk says, suggesting that “There’s a sense that Israel has become a power in its own right, and it doesn’t need the United States as much. It’s a kind of hubris.”

Hubris or not, Indyk does not see a quick fix for the growing chasm between the two countries. He says it got completely out of control during the Gaza crisis, when Secretary of State John Kerry was “assailed for supposedly betraying Israel because he was trying to work with the prime minister on a cease-fire, and he engaged with Qatar and Turkey to test whether they could influence Hamas to stop firing the rockets.”

Indyk sounds wounded when he points out that “criticism came not just from the right but from pundits on the left as well – Haaretz published three articles by their journalists attacking Kerry. I think that’s a product of a particular circumstance in which Israelis felt very much isolated, on their own – that the world didn’t understand them. In that defensive crouch, I think they were waiting for a betrayal by the United States even though the secretary and the president repeatedly supported their right to defend themselves. So they interpreted the secretary’s actions as being designed to undermine Israel in favor of Hamas and undermine its burgeoning alignment with Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”

As to the future, the weary peace negotiator is convinced that “the younger generation of Palestinians who have grown up knowing nothing but Israeli occupation don’t believe in a two-state solution, don’t believe there will ever be an independent Palestinian state. They want equal rights in Israel. And that’s where this is heading.”

It might just be the only available way out. “It’s very hard to make the argument that America now has a strategic interest in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ” Indyk says. “It’s just one of many conflicts and it’s not the most important and it’s not the most difficult.”

He believes at some point the Israelis will turn to the U.S. for help in settling the conflict, at which point “the U.S.-Israeli relationship will be critically important in terms of giving them a safety net to enable them to make the difficult, gut-wrenching compromises necessary to resolve this dilemma.”

Or not.

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