Inno­cent Abroad: An Inti­mate His­to­ry of Amer­i­can Peace Diplo­ma­cy in the Mid­dle East

Mar­tin Indyk
  • Review
By – January 16, 2012

Mar­tin Indyk, draw­ing on his decade-long pro­fes­sion­al involve­ment in the Mid­dle East as a senior offi­cial in the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion and as ambas­sador to Israel, has writ­ten a shrewd mem­oir and insight­ful his­to­ry of the failed U.S. efforts to fash­ion a Mid­dle East peace. In this sub­stan­tive, self-crit­i­cal, and well-writ­ten book that is filled with detail, analy­sis, as well as per­son­al anec­do­tal nuggets, Indyk spares lit­tle of the diplo­mat­ic pain and frus­tra­tion he endured. This is a refresh­ing­ly hon­est book. 

An Aus­tralian aca­d­e­m­ic who came to Amer­i­ca in 1982 to spend a sab­bat­i­cal year at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty and nev­er left — he found­ed the Wash­ing­ton Insti­tute for Near East Pol­i­cy in 1984 — Indyk was brought into the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion in 1992 as a Mid­dle East pol­i­cy advi­sor. He was a key play­er in prepar­ing the U.S. ini­tia­tives for the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993 and assumed that the peace process was primed for suc­cess. But it took only a year for it all to unrav­el. The bulk of the book is his attempt to describe what went wrong on the Pales­tin­ian track on the West Bank and with the Israelis and Syr­i­ans. Along with his col­leagues on the Amer­i­can peace team — Den­nis Ross, Daniel Kurtzer, and Aaron Miller — who have also recent­ly writ­ten books on this sub­ject as well as Pres­i­dent Clin­ton in his mem­oirs, Indyk lays much of the blame for the fail­ure of the 2000 Camp David nego­ti­a­tions on Yasir Arafat. He believes that Arafat was nev­er seri­ous about com­ing to a res­o­lu­tion of the conflict. 

Indyk draws some lessons for the new admin­is­tra­tion, advo­cat­ing for a new com­pre­hen­sive ini­tia­tive in the region, a ver­sion of the Clin­ton approach, that rec­og­nizes the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of the flash points. An Israeli-Pales­tin­ian peace, the cen­ter­piece of any res­o­lu­tion, would help bring Arab gov­ern­ments like Egypt and Sau­di Ara­bia on board in an effort to curb Iran­ian nuclear ambi­tions. The Ira­ni­ans cur­rent­ly pose the great­est threat in the region and to U.S. inter­ests because of its nuclear pro­gram and its influ­ence over Syr­ia, Iraq, Lebanon, Hezbol­lah, the Pales­tini­ans, and Hamas. He urges the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion to make its goals more mod­est and real­is­tic than those of the Bush admin­is­tra­tion. He sug­gests that Wash­ing­ton push back hard­er against cer­tain Israeli poli­cies like set­tle­ment build­ing. He wants the cre­ation of an inter­na­tion­al author­i­ty to secure Jerusalem’s holy sites with no sov­er­eign­ty inside that sacred” zone for either Israel or Pales­tine. He wants the Pales­tini­ans to give up the right of return because it pos­es a fun­da­men­tal exis­ten­tial threat to the very con­cept of a Jew­ish state. With Hamas, he wants the cease­fire extend­ed and Hamas to reject vio­lence and rec­og­nize the legit­i­ma­cy of Israel by respect­ing pre­vi­ous accords between the PLO and Israel.

For those inter­est­ed in the intri­ca­cies of Mid­dle East pol­i­tics and the major play­ers involved, this book is invalu­able and well-worth read­ing. Although the events are over a decade old and have been cov­ered else­where, the pub­li­ca­tion of the book now with a new admin­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton and Hillary Clin­ton as Sec­re­tary of State makes it espe­cial­ly time­ly and important. 

Michael N. Dobkows­ki is a pro­fes­sor of reli­gious stud­ies at Hobart and William Smith Col­leges. He is co-edi­tor of Geno­cide and the Mod­ern Age and On the Edge of Scarci­ty (Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty Press); author of The Tar­nished Dream: The Basis of Amer­i­can Anti-Semi­tism; and co-author of The Nuclear Predicament.

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