Martin Indyk

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Martin Indyk is the acting vice president, director of Foreign Policy, and Director of the Saban Institute for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He was born in the United Kingdom, educated in Australia, and emigrated to the United States in 1982. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Sydney and a Ph.D. from Australian National University.

He was the founding executive director for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In the Clinton Administration, he was Director of Near East-South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

Commenting on the evolution of U.S. politics and Israel, he said, in September 2009, "In the Bush years, when Israel enjoyed a blank check, increasing numbers of people in the Jewish and pro-Israel community began to wonder, if this was the best president Israel ever had, how come Israel’s circumstances seemed to be deteriorating so rapidly?...There was kind of a cognitive dissonance about whether a blank check for Israel is necessarily the best way to secure the longevity of the Jewish state.”[1]


He is past director of research for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. From there, in February 1985 he co-founded the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, with Barbi Weinberg, former president of the Jewish Federation in Los Angeles and wife of AIPAC Chairman Emeritus Lawrence Weinberg; she became president and he became executive director. AIPAC provide the first year's office space. [2] WINEP was positioned as a think tank while AIPAC remained a lobby.


In 1993, he described U.S. policy as establishing that Saddam's government was "a criminal regime, beyond the pale of international society, and, in our judgment, irredeemable." He also said the US was increasing support to the Iraqi National Congress.[3]


While, in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt call him a member of the Israel Lobby, they agree he supports a two-state solution. [4] Recently, he has criticized Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu for inflexibility.

He points to the situation being broader than US-Israel or Israel-Palestine, but mentions reason for Arab state involvement.

Criticism of Netanyahu

Discussing Netanyahu's May 2009 meeting with President Barack Obama, he was reminded of a time, 16 years ago, when Bill Clinton stood next to Yitzhak Rabin, committed to achieving peace. Rabin, according to Clinton, said he would take risks (i.e., withdrawing from the Golan Heights, and, "If you do that, my role is to minimise those risks."[5]

In the May 2009 meeting, however, "Netanyahu certainly didn't sound in public as if he had told Obama in private that he was willing to take risks for peace." Avoiding the concern of his right-wing base, Netanyahu did not commit to an independent Palestinian state. He mentioned "self-government" for the Palestinians, and added an apparent new condition, that the Palestinians 'would have to "allow Israel the means to defend itself'." This appeared to mean no Palestinian defense force, airspace, or border control. Indyk recognized the results of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza: Hamas launched a rocket attack, and he agreed that Netanyahu reasonably will not allow that to happen in Gaza.

"But by refusing to declare his support for an independent Palestinian state, albeit with restrictions on its sovereignty, he focuses the Palestinians on what they will have to give up rather than what they will have to gain from an end of the Israeli occupation." Palestine can refuse this, and force Obama to "having to drag them to the negotiating table."

Indyk mentioned Netanyahu's thought on Arab state involvement in the Palestinian peace process: for a change, Israel, the US, and the Arabs have a common concern: "Iran's hegemonic regional ambitions and its aggressive nuclear program."

So, according to Indyk, Obama sees a double value in involving Arab leaders, but "Netanyahu appears to have handed Obama the challenge of bringing these Arab leaders to the peace party without indicating what he will do either to get them there or to reward them for the risk of coming. That's an invitation they will easily refuse..."

MJ Rosenberg, Washington Director of Policy Analysis, Israel Policy Forum, translated an Indyk interview in Yedioth Ahronoth by Nahum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer. [6]

When the interviewers said US administrations are naive and asked why Netanyahu should listen, Indyk said, “We are not the only ones who have failed,” “You too have erred and failed. We failed, among other reasons, because President Clinton did his best to meet the wishes of your prime ministers. There were other reasons: lack of leadership on Assad’s part, errors made by Arafat and opportunities missed by Israel. There is a lot of failure to go around...

"Netanyahu should listen to Obama because Obama is telling him, in essence, that resolving the conflict is an American interest. " The Israeli-Arab conflict benefits of America’s enemies—Iran, Hezballah and Hamas, and this is not in Israel's favor.

The interviewers raised the "existential question" that Israel cannot afford to make an error, while the US can do so. Indyk replied There is no question that Israel is taking a tangible risk...But all these years, the US has been strengthening you precisely for this purpose—so that you can take the risk of making peace. How exactly can the Palestinians destroy you? The real existential danger is that you will not succeed in parting from them." They raised the Gaza situation, and he pointed out it was a unilateral withdrawal with no agreement, which he does not suggest for the West Bank.

Syrian role

Arafat rejected in 2000, they said, proposals from Ehud Barak and Shlomo Ben-Ami. Indyk said that could have been done better. The US and Israeli strategy of the time of was "Syria first." "At the Shepherdstown conference of January 2000, when we missed the chance to reach an agreement with the Syrians, Arafat experienced a turnabout. Until then, he was afraid of being left behind. After the failure with the Syrians, Barak and Clinton—as President Bush rightfully said—courted Arafat desperately. Had there been an agreement with Syria, the equation would have been different." Hafez Assad , before his death, decided he wanted a deal, but would not send a representative to direct talks with Israel. He did, however, send Foreign Minister Farouk Ashara to Washington for talks.

At the time, the emphasis was why he would not shake hands and why he condemned Israel, not the key thing in his speech: "it is a dispute over borders, not an existential conflict." The moment to finalize an agreement with Assad was between December 1999 and February 2000. Had Barak risen to the occasion at the right moment, it would have changed everything.”

Indyk recently was in Syria as the guest of the Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem. He said there is increased flexibility. They have not changed their position on territory and will yield no land. But if Israel recognizes Syria’s sovereignty over the entire Golan, they will be willing to talk about what remains, including Israeli communities under Syrian sovereignty.”


  1. James Traub (9 September 2009), "The New Israel Lobby", New York Times
  2. Grace Halsell (March 1993), Clinton's Indyk Appointment One of Many From Pro-Israel Think Tank
  3. David Wurmser (1999), Tyranny's Ally: America's Failure to defeat Saddam Hussein, American Enterprise Institute, ISBN 084474073X
  4. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (2007), The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, ISBN 13978037417720
  5. Martin Indyk (25 May 2009), "Martin Indyk: Israel Must Take Risks for Peace (presentation at Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia)", Australian
  6. 28 May 2009, "Ambassador Indyk Tells All: Pretty Amazing Interview", Mideast Peace Pulse