Martin Indyk on Middle East Peace possibilities

02/18/09 Mitch E. Perry
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In the Middle East today, Hamas vehemently rejected the Israeli Cabinet's decision not to open its border crossings with the Gaza Strip until Hamas agrees to release abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

Shalit was abducted by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006. Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier's freedom.

According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Israel’s Welfare Minister told the Cabinet that Israel cannot keep the border crossings closed much longer because of international pressure.

But Vice Premier Haim Ramon told him that Israel is facing a humanitarian crises, and his name is Gilad Shalit and that until he is returned to Israel, “not only will we not allow more cargo reach the citizens of Gaza, we will even diminish it.”

The situation in the Middle East was the subject of discussion today in a national conference call held today by Martin Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel and assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs during the Clinton administration.

He’s the author of the new book, Innocent Abroad. In his opening remarks, Indyk, who now directs the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, accused former presidents Clinton and George W. Bush of not being realistic in trying to shape a Middle East Peace plan.

Although Indyk supported Barack Obama during the presidential campaign, he says he is not working for the administration, and emphasized that his opinions were his alone.

He does believe that Obama needs to have talks with the Syrian government and perhaps Iran.

When it comes to Hamas, Indyk says the Obama administration should not begin dealing with that government right now.

Indyk says the Arab states should take on the responsibility of reconciling Fatah and Hamas, to the extent that Hamas could then accept Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, to be the leader of the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel.

When asked about active American-Jewish engagement in the peace process, Indyk said he firmly believes that Israel’s future can only be guaranteed with peace and normalization relations, and he says that American-Jewish organizations should continue to support such efforts.

Indyk said he believed it was important for the West to listen to what Iran wants, even though there efforts to produce a nuclear bomb look pretty serious to him.

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