Secretary of State John Kerry speaks as Martin Indyk looks on in a conference to discuss the Middle East peace process. (Source: AP)
Secretary of State John Kerry has been on a quiet roll lately, especially in his regards to handling the restarted Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He managed to keep a lid on things, and played a smooth negotiator in just getting the two sides back at the table, going back and forth to placate the sides. Kerry's peace process efforts are bearing fruit: This weekend, in a divisive vote, the Israeli Knesset agreed to release 104 high-profile Palestinian prisoners as a precondition to begin the peace process talks again. It now seems evident that initial talks will begin today on both sides, which will possibly lead to the return to direct talks. The last time direct talks occurred in the peace process was September 2010, when Palestinians walked out over the issue of illegal settlements in the West Bank.
Now, to push things forward, Secretary of State John Kerry is calling in a veteran negotiator to lead the current peace talks. Martin Indyk, who currently works at the Brookings Institution and previously served as ambassador to Israel in the late 1990s, has been tapped by Kerry to lead the American delegation of mediators for the peace process talks. Indyk has long been involved in matters concerning the Middle East: He was a student in Jerusalem when the Yom Kippur War ended in a ceasefire. Indyk would later join the Clinton administration in the State Department, and in his role as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and Ambassador to Israel, assisted in the Oslo peace talks, followed by the Camp David talks in 2000 that ended in failure.
Martin Indyk has a full plate ahead of him, as is to be expected on the matters concerning the Middle East peace process. The key points of contention between the Israeli and Palestinians have remained the same in the last 5 to 10 years, some further back: The use of Jerusalem (or al-Quds) as a capital between the two states, the status of Palestinian refugees who fled Israel in the 1948 war and their descendants, and the building of illegal settlements by Israelis in the West Bank. The American position since President Obama was elected remains a variation on the demand of using the borders from the 1967 Six Day War as the precursor for peace talks, with the option of swapping land, and John Kerry and Martin Indyk remain firm on that front. This position is also heavily supported by the Arab League and Palestinians, though an issue with Israelis, whose cabinet has pro-settler parties controlling key ministries.
For their part, the Israelis are moving forward in the peace process, if ever so slowly. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed his vote Sunday to release prisoners in order to secure support from his cabinet. He also made clear that any peace process talks would have to be cleared by the Israeli public through a referendum. That said, Netanyahu has sent dovish Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to lead the Israeli delegation in the peace process, to meet with Saeb Erekat and the Palestinians. Indyk sees the talks as a "daunting and humbling challenge," but hopes that it yield some effective results.