Henry A. Kissinger, whose family fled Nazi Germany in 1938 and who later became the first Jewish U.S. Secretary of State, is probably best known for forging détente with the then-Soviet Union, opening relations with China and helping to end American involvement in the Vietnam War.
Martin S. Indyk, who is originally from the U.K. but who later moved to Australia and eventually became the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, believes Americans — especially the Jewish community — should understand that it was Kissinger’s dedication to Israel’s survival that led him to initiate the idea of a peace process. In doing so, Kissinger helped bring order to the Middle East.
Indyk’s most recent book, “Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy,” just published by A.A. Knopf, brings him to Atlanta to speak at J Street’s annual event at Temple Sinai on Dec. 7.
“Kissinger’s Jewishness is the subtext of my book,” Indyk told the AJT. “And he did it from an anti-Semitic White House. President Nixon had ordered him to stay away from the Middle East. Instead, Kissinger engaged in obfuscation in his role. That’s why there’s a prevailing mood in the American Jewish community that ‘he pressured Israel.’ People don’t know what the real story is. Kissinger took steps at critical junctures to ensure Israel’s survival.” By introducing the policy of a peace process, Kissinger “made it possible for Israel to buy time” and to become the strongest power in the Middle East. He “should be held as a righteous Zionist,” claims Indyk.
The former ambassador was a special envoy in 2014, working with then-Secretary of State John Kerry to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. It was that failure, after nine months of negotiation, that led Indyk to “go back to where it began and see what we can learn.” Indyk had several interviews with Kissinger, as well as a “treasure trove of documents and Israeli archives” to assist him in his research.
“It was a fascinating journey,” said Indyk. “I tried to take the reader into the rooms where the negotiations [occurred] between these great leaders and learn from that story.”
Indyk acknowledged that people, including himself, have mocked the idea of a peace process in the Middle East. “People have felt that there’s too much process and not enough peace, but having spent six years delving into archives, I now understand what Kissinger was doing in the 1970s. Kissinger’s view of peace was that it’s nice to have, but dangerous to pursue.”
If one studies history, he said, one can see that pursuing peace was more likely to lead to war. It’s more important to create an equilibrium or balance of power, and that’s what Kissinger tried to do, said Indyk, adding that Kissinger also sought to take Egypt out of the conflict so that the Arab countries would not go to war against Israel. “The genius of his peace process is that it wasn’t designed to produce peace, but it was designed to produce order,” explained Indyk. “Rather than an end of conflict, he negotiated an interim agreement with Egypt. He never intended to go for a final peace agreement, which President Carter did two years later.”
According to Indyk, Israel needed to exchange territory for time, not for peace. “Time would serve Israel better than a peace agreement, and this has worked well,” he said. The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin embraced Kissinger’s approach with the Oslo Agreements, which called for Israel to yield territory in three phases without an endgame. “Rabin used to say that there is no sacred timetable.”
In his last interview with Kissinger, Indyk asked the nearly 100-year-old if he had any regrets about not facilitating peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Kissinger didn’t. “He feared that if he pushed too hard, he would break the process, and that’s what we did at Camp David. We pushed too hard for an end of conflict,” he said, referring to former President Bill Clinton’s attempt to forge an agreement between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in 2000. “The result was the Second Intifada, and it destroyed the edifice of a peace process. It’s not been possible to put it back together again.”
Always the diplomat, Indyk expressed “cautious optimism” about the Middle East.
“I would like the American Jewish community to understand that Israel needs to pursue peace. I hope they learn from this book that there’s a way for Israel to achieve peace with the Palestinians and Arabs, and it’s the Kissinger way. I learned from this Kissinger journey that there’s a way to do it and there’s a way not to do it,” he stated.
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- Martin Indyk
- Peace Process
- Henry Kissinger
- Michael Lionstar
- U.S. Secretary of State
- Soviet Union
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- U.S. Ambassador to Israel
- United Kingdom
- Middle East
- Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy
- A.A. Knopf
- J Street
- Temple Sinai
- White House
- President Nixon
- American-Jewish community
- John Kerry
- Arab Countries
- Jimmy Carter
- Yitzhak Rabin
- Camp David
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- Bill Clinton
- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
- Yasser Arafat