Rewriting the history of the peace process

The inconvenient truth about Ehud Barak, Martin Indyk and the Clinton Parameters.

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Martin Indyk, US Special Envoy for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, in 2013 [Getty]
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Martin Indyk, US Special Envoy for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, in 2013 [Getty]

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I have nothing but the utmost respect and appreciation for the 30-odd guests who have appeared on “Head on Head” since the series began airing in 2012.

To sit in front of a crowd of 300 or so people, plus a panel of experts, at the Oxford Union, and be interrogated first by me, then by the panellists and then by the audience, over the course of an hour, is a daunting prospect for some.

“Tough”, “heated”, “challenging” and “high energy” are a small sample of the words used by former “Head to Head” guests to describe their experience on the show.

So all credit to United States Democrat and former diplomat, Martin Indyk, for accepting our invitation to debate and defend the US-Israel alliance on the latest “Head to Head”.

Head to Head – Should the US be neutral on Israel-Palestine?

Indyk – who served as a special envoy on Israel-Palestine under US President Barack Obama and as US ambassador to Israel under President Bill Clinton – was charming, eloquent and suitably robust. He spoke movingly about “trying to resolve the conflict” until he drew his “last breath”.

He was refreshingly candid on a range of issues: from the lack of US neutrality (“We are not neutral; we don’t claim to be neutral”) to US double standards (“Yes, we have double standards”) to Israel’s settlements (“It was the settlements that screwed up the [John Kerry] negotiations”).

The former US envoy even accepted his own personal share of responsibility for the diplomatic failures of the past three decades.

The Clinton Parameters

On Twitter, however, Yiftah Curiel, the savvy press spokesman for the Israeli embassy in the UK, chose to ignore all these admissions from Indyk.

ALSO READ: A century later, the tide turns on Palestine

Curiel, instead, preferred to tweet only a 29-second clip from the 48-minute interview, in which the former top US diplomat raised the December 2000 US peace initiative known as the “Clinton Parameters”.

The former US envoy even accepted his own personal share of responsibility for the diplomatic failures of the past three decades.


The Israeli spokesman described this brief clip as “the most important 30 seconds” of the show because, apparently, they revealed “Israel’s credentials on peace”.

Curiel’s tweet has since been shared by a raft of Israeli diplomats, not to mention American supporters of Israel, such as former Bush speechwriter David Frum. Peter Lerner, head of foreign and social media for the Israeli military, retweeted it while claiming Martyn Indyk had “set things straight with misinformed @mehdirhasan”.

Normally, I tend not to re-prosecute arguments from “Head to Head” once the show has been aired but, on this occasion, I cannot help but respond.

First, there’s the delicious irony of Curiel – and other Israeli officials – seeming to endorse the Clinton Parameters, which proposed a Palestinian state on large chunks of the West Bank in return for an Israel annexation of settlement blocs.

Lest we forget, the current Israeli government, for which Curiel is a spokesman, is headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud Party opposed the Clinton Parameters at the time, and consists of more than a dozen high-level cabinet ministers who – as I have previously documented – proudly and publicly reject an independent Palestinian state, and thus a two-state solution, of any kind.

Demonstrably incorrect

Second, the argument that Indyk forcefully advances in the clip is wholly and demonstrably incorrect. Here is a transcript of the full exchange, between Indyk and me, as contained in the clip shared by Curiel on Twitter:


Martin Indyk (MI): “No, it’s there in terms of what Clinton offered them [the Palestinians].”

Mehdi Hasan (MH): “And both sides tabled reservations to the Clinton Parameters in December 2000, as you well know.”

MI: “No, [Israeli Prime Minister] Barak accepted them.”

MH: “That’s not true, but we’ll have to agree to disagree on that.”

MI: “I was there …”

MH: “Ok.”

MI: ” … when the fax came from Barak’s office to my residence in Israel with the formal decision, signed by the prime minister, accepting the Clinton Parameters. So don’t tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

ALSO READ: The Six-Day War, 48 years on

To be clear: Indyk is claiming that the Clinton Parameters were accepted by the Israelis without reservations while suggesting the Palestinians did not accept them, with or without reservations.

This is factually inaccurate. Don’t take my word for it. Don’t take the word of the late Yasser Arafat. Don’t even take the word of the respected Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz, who tweeted, in response to Curiel, “Martin [Indyk] is wrong and I have the documents to prove it. Barak’s answer was ‘Yes, but’.”

Rather, consider the official view of the Clinton administration, in which Indyk served. On January 3, 2001, after a series of phone calls between Clinton, Barak and Arafat, the New York Times quoted Jake Siewert, the White House spokesman, as telling reporters: “Chairman Arafat told the president that he had accepted the president’s parameters. At the same time, he expressed some reservations. What that means is that both sides have now accepted the president’s ideas with some reservations. That represents a step forward.”

Siewert’s US State Department counterpart, spokesman Richard Boucher, repeated the point, almost word for word, in his briefing to reporters on the same day:

“[B]oth sides have accepted the president’s parameters, the president’s ideas, but both sides have reservations.”

Clinton himself, in a speech to the Israel Policy Forum on January 7, 2001, used the exact same language as his officials: “Both Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat have now accepted these parameters as the basis for further efforts. Both have expressed some reservations.”

If Indyk and Curiel believe the Palestinians never wanted to accept the parameters and sign a peace deal with Israel, fine. Let them believe that. The historical record, however, says otherwise.

To quote that other US Democrat and strong supporter of Israel, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Mehdi Hasan is an award-winning journalist, author, political commentator and the presenter of Head to Head and UpFront.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.