The Cable

U.S. Chides Israel for Treatment of Detained Teen

The State Department said Sunday that it was "profoundly troubled" by Israel's treatment of a Palestinian-American who was detained and allegedly beaten by Israeli security personnel, unusually harsh words from the Obama administration that point to a growing divide between the American and Israeli governments.

Tariq Khdeir, a high school sophomore visiting Jerusalem from Tampa, Florida, was arrested Thursday and held for three nights in Israeli custody before being released Sunday under house arrest after his family posted bail.

A video posted online appears to show Israeli police officers hitting and kicking him before the arrest. In addition to the video, there are photos of Khdeir's face, disfigured with a black eye and swollen lip. It sparked outrage among Palestinians, who are already up in arms over the killing of Khdeir's 16-year-old cousin, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, whose body was found beaten and burned in a Jerusalem forest on Wednesday.

"We are profoundly troubled by reports that [Tariq Khdeir] was severely beaten while in police custody and strongly condemn any excessive use of force," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Israeli police said that Khdeir and those arrested with him resisted arrest and attacked the officers, but Khdeir's family says he did not participate in any violence.

Muhammad Abu Khdeir's murder is believed to be revenge for the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers who were hitchhiking in the West Bank in early June. One of the teenagers, 16-year-old Naftali Fraenkel, had dual Israeli and American citizenship. The Israeli teens' bodies were found June 30 near the city of Hebron.

President Barack Obama called the murders a "senseless act of terror against innocent youth" that caused "indescribable pain" to their parents. The White House issued a similarly sharp condemnation after Muhammad Abu Khdeir's murder, with National Security Advisor Susan Rice calling it a "heinous murder" on Twitter. Rice also tweeted that the United States is "paying close attention to [the] investigation" into the teen's death, which surprised some observers in the Israeli media by implying that the administration had at least some doubts about the integrity of the Israeli probe.

Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, issued a similar call Sunday as she pressed for a broad probe into Tariq Khdeir's detention and apparent beating.

"As we stated yesterday we are calling for a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for the apparent excessive use of force," Psaki said.

Sunday's comments were the latest in a series of rhetorical volleys between Jerusalem and Washington. In January, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was "acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor." Psaki responded at the time that Yaalon's comment was "offensive and inappropriate." Yaalon later issued an apology.

As outrage over the new killings spreads on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, Israeli police announced Sunday that they arrested a group of suspects in Muhammad Abu Khdeir's abduction and murder. The New York Times reported that several of them are minors.

The police are trying to determine whether the same suspects may also be responsible for the unsuccessful kidnapping of 8-year-old Mousa Zaloum, which occurred a day before Khdeir was abducted in the same Jerusalem neighborhood.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the suspects in Khdeir's killing "terrorists" and said they would "face the full weight of the law," but used their arrest to call on Palestinian leaders to track down the killers of the Israeli teenagers.

Speaking in front of the house of one of the Israeli teenagers, Netanyahu said: "The murderers came from the territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority; they returned to territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, the Palestinian Authority is obliged to do everything in its power to find them, just as we did, just as our security forces located the suspects in the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir within a matter of days."

Meanwhile, Israel has carried out airstrikes in Gaza in response to alleged rocket attacks coming from the Hamas-controlled territory. Hamas said Sunday that the Israeli airstrikes killed seven of its members.

Combined, these events have thrown Israel into a new cycle of violence that threatens to further unravel any chance of restarting the peace talks that collapsed in April.

"The focus of diplomacy now needs to be crisis management and a prevention of a further deterioration of conditions of the ground," said Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.* "There is no real prospect of bringing the parties back to the negotiating table for the foreseeable future."

Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado last week, Martin Indyk, the former top U.S. envoy to the Middle East, said the peace talks fell apart in April because of the bitter relationship between Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. And he defended Kerry's efforts: "We gave it everything we had, and we got nowhere."


* Correction, July 7, 2014: Robert Danin is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. An earlier version of this story incorrectly called the organization the Center on Foreign Relations. (Return to reading.)

Photo by AFP/Ahmad Gharabli

The Cable

Indyk Admits Mideast Peace Process Is Dead

This story has been updated. 

ASPEN, Colo. — The former top U.S. envoy to the Middle East said that trust between Israeli and Palestinian leaders has completely dissolved, leaving him exceptionally pessimistic about the prospects of restoring negotiations over a lasting peace settlement between their two peoples.

"There is a deep loathing of each leader for the other that has built up over the years," Martin Indyk told an audience of several hundred people at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado in response to questions from the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg. Indyk, in his first public remarks since stepping down as the U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on June 27, said the distance between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seems unbridgeable. "There is no trust between them. Neither believes that the other is serious," Indyk said.

The former envoy was unsparing in his criticism of both men, but he strongly defended the Obama administration's efforts to forge a settlement and a path toward a Palestinian state that would exist peacefully with Israel. Indyk praised the personal efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been criticized on Capitol Hill and in foreign-policy circles for spending too much time on brokering a deal that never showed much chance of hope, while a civil war raged in Syria and jihadists conquered portions of Iraq. That criticism has flared anew after the final fumes of the U.S.-led peace process dissipated recently amid an ongoing -- and bloody -- Israeli offensive into the West Bank and Gaza following the murder of three Israeli teenagers.

"It's not as if John Kerry was ignoring these other issues," Indyk said. "He is indefatigable. It's not as if he can't do more than one thing."

Indyk said Kerry came into office with the peace process as a personal priority and had the backing of President Barack Obama. But in the end, he said, the United States found itself negotiating with two leaders who, while committed to a two-state solution, could not sell a deal to their people.  

"We gave it everything we had, and we got nowhere," Indyk said, laying the blame "50-50" between Netanyahu and Abbas. Negotiations officially ended in April when Abbas opted to press for statehood through the United Nations rather than continue, a move that Israel had long said would be a deal-breaker.

In recounting a nearly yearlong series of negotiations, Indyk said that both sides identified the agreement gaps early on and that Netanyahu eventually moved into "the zone of a possible agreement" on such thorny issues as the status of territories, Jerusalem, and mutual recognition of Israel's and Palestine's rights to exist.

But during Abbas's visit to Washington in March, he effectively "checked out" from the talks and stopped responding to proposals from the Obama administration on how to close a deal, Indyk said. After that, the process spiraled downward and intensified during negotiations over the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Abbas said he decided to seek statehood at the U.N. after Israel refused to release a fourth group of prisoners. But Indyk said that Abbas was also frustrated by Israel's announced plans to construct new settlements, which had coincided with the release of each group of prisoners. An impression took hold among Palestinians that Abbas was paying for the prisoners' freedom by ceding away more territory to Israel, Indyk said, an impression that Netanyahu's government did nothing to counter.

"[Abbas] became humiliated in the eyes of his people," Indyk said. Abbas then concluded he could withdraw from the talks or be overthrown.

"President [Obama] himself still considers it a priority," Indyk said. "He would still like to see a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on his watch. At the moment, he's declared a pause, but he's not walking away. He's ready to come back. He's even said he's ready to bring me back to rework it."

That seems highly unlikely following the Israeli teen murders by suspected Hamas militants, which were followed by an apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager, whose burned body was found on Wednesday in a Jerusalem forest.

"Essentially what you've got now is a more rapidly deteriorating situation in which all of the worst fears and assumptions about the other side are being confirmed," Indyk said. And that mistrust is especially pronounced among younger Palestinians, who've "grown up under Israeli occupation. [They] simply don't believe that the Israelis will ever grant them their rights."

Reflecting on decades invested in trying to forge a lasting peace, Indyk recalled the historic September 1993 handshake between Yitzhak Rabin, then Israel's prime minister, and Yasir Arafat, then P.L.O. chairman, on the South Lawn of the White House, sealing the first agreement to end the long conflict. Indyk witnessed this "with tears of hope" in his eyes. "But it's 20 years since then, and so many people have died and so many hopes have been dashed on both sides that there is a deep, deep skepticism in the heart of the people, Israelis and Palestinians," Indyk said. "People on both sides do not believe that [peace] is possible."

Paul J. Richards / AFP