Hillary Clinton (archive): America can't ever be neutral when it comes to Israel's security

Ted Cruz (archive): America will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel

Donald Trump (archive): We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.

Mehdi VO: The US funds the Israeli military to the tune of $3bn a year. At the UN, Israel has no stronger advocate than the United States. And when it comes to the never-ending peace process with the Palestinians, critics say Israel couldn't have a more favourable mediator.

John Kerry (archive): America will stand by the side of Israel every step of the way

Mehdi VO: And all the while, Israel's expansionist settlement project shatters Palestinian dreams of statehood. My guest tonight has been at the heart of US-Israel relations for decades and has been a trusted adviser to presidents and secretaries of state alike.

Martin Indyk (archive): It's been my conviction for 40 years that peace is possible.

Mehdi VO: But after the latest failure, has the former negotiator now changed his tune?

Mehdi VO: I'm Mehdi Hasan and I've come to the Oxford Union to go Head to Head with Martin Indyk, the former US Ambassador to Israel who served as President Obama's special envoy on the Middle East. I'll challenge him on whether his country has acted as Israel's lawyer at the expense of the peace process, and why it is that the United States always seems to have Israel's back no matter what.

Mehdi VO: Tonight I'll also be joined by Dr Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian author and activist, and Research Fellow at the University of Exeter's Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies. Rachel Shabi, an award-winning journalist, and author of Not The Enemy: Israel's Jews From Arab Lands, and Professor Alan Johnson, Senior Research Fellow at BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre

Mehdi Hasan: Ladies and Gentleman, please put your hands together for Martin Indyk. 

Mehdi VO: Currently Executive Vice President at the influential Brookings Institution in Washington DC, he also led the most recent US attempt to restart peace talks in 2013.

Mehdi Hasan: Martin Indyk, your former boss, US Secretary of State John Kerry, has said that the United States can, "serve as the facilitator, the honest broker in an effort to reach a peace deal in the Middle East." But given the US supports, funds, arms Israel, the occupying power, that's nonsense, isn't it? The United States has never been an "innocent abroad", to quote the title of your book. It's never been an honest broker.

Martin Indyk: Well, Mehdi, first of all, thank you for having me. I would say that the United States is pro-Israel and that's what gives it its influence in the peace process, and that's the heart of the matter. We are not neutral. We don't claim to be neutral. We have an alliance with Israel, but in order to achieve another interest that we have, which is peace in the region, stability in the region, and a settlement that provides for the legitimate national rights of the Palestinians, we need to be able to influence Israel. Israel, as you say, is the occupying power.

Mehdi Hasan: And how has that worked out for you over 30 years?

Martin Indyk: Well, it's worked out very well in the case of Egypt, it worked out well in the case of Jordan, and we're still working at it in the case of the Palestinians.

Mehdi Hasan: Most people, when they look at this subject, would say, you know, if you were going through problems with your wife, God forbid, and you had to get marriage counselling, would you ask your wife's best friend to do the counselling?

Martin Indyk: Sure.

Mehdi Hasan: You would?

Martin Indyk: My wife's best ...

Mehdi Hasan: You're probably the only man who would ...

Martin Indyk: ... friend would understand my wife, would know how to influence my wife, absolutely. 

Mehdi Hasan: Seriously?

Martin Indyk: Absolutely.

Mehdi Hasan: You think that marriage counselling should be done by a party that's biased towards one side.

Martin Indyk: Well, we're not dealing with marriage counselling here. We're dealing ...

Mehdi Hasan: True. It's an analogy; it's a point that most people understand that if you want to broker an agreement between two sides, you have to have some credibility with both sides. You can't be seen as Israel's lawyer.

Martin Indyk: That is not a role that we should play, and when I was in the negotiations now, heading them up for Secretary Kerry, it was a promise that I made to the Palestinians that we would not coordinate with the Israelis and agree with the Israelis in advance, and try to impose it on ...

Mehdi Hasan: But in earlier negotiations, you accept the Americans did that?

Martin Indyk: There were times when we did it, and ...

Mehdi Hasan: Camp David, for example, in 2000. The line about Israel's lawyer is from your former State Department colleague, Aaron David Miller, who advised six Secretaries of State on Middle East negotiations. He said at Camp David, "US officials acted as Israel's attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations." He says both he and you brought a clear pro-Israel orientation to the US peace process planning.

Martin Indyk: Yes, I am pro-Israel and proud of it, but I'm also pro-peace, and determined that the best way to serve the Israel that I believe in, which is an Israel that is at peace with its neighbours, and particularly with the Palestinians, is to do whatever I can to help both sides achieve peace.

Mehdi Hasan: You say both sides; Nabil Shaath says that you and Dennis Ross, quote, "defended Israel more than the Israeli delegates did." That's what Shaath says.

Martin Indyk: Well, that's Nabil Shaath, what can I do? Have you heard that from Saeb Erekat?

Mehdi Hasan: Let me ask you about ...

Martin Indyk: You don't have Saeb Erekat's quote on that, do you?

Mehdi Hasan: I don't think Saeb Erekat thinks that the US government has been even-handed, but that's a question for another day.

Here's what so many people find so fascinating and frustrating across the world. The United States not only insists on leading this process, but when things go wrong, when Israel, say, violates international law, the US then promptly steps in to protect Israel from criticism, from censure. Over the past 44 years, I believe the United States has vetoed 42 resolutions at the UN Security Council critical of Israel. In 2011, the US vetoed a Security Council resolution which basically had copied and pasted US policy on settlement expansion into a UN resolution. You vetoed your own policy in order to protect the Israelis.

Martin Indyk: First of all, there were other things in that resolution that were unacceptable to the United States and against US policy, so that was a problem. But secondly, the United Nations in general and the Security Council in particular are very hostile places to Israel. And so we want to try to keep it out of the UN Security Council, out of the UN General Assembly, and try to focus it on a direct negotiation between the parties. Now, there are times when it might be appropriate for UN Security Council resolutions. For instance, there's a settlement resolution coming up now. If it doesn't have objectionable things in it, I personally think it wouldn't be a bad thing for the United States at least to abstain on that so that the settlers in Israel understand that it's not cost-free.

Mehdi Hasan: Abstain, that's as far as you'll go? The whole world is outraged by Israel settlement expansion, illegal settlement, and the best the US can do is an abstention. Wow.

Martin Indyk: That would be huge, Mehdi. It means that the resolution would go through.

Mehdi Hasan: Do you know how much money the United States gives to Israel every year?

Martin Indyk: Yes, quite ...

Mehdi Hasan: How much?

Martin Indyk: Around, somewhere between three and $3.5bn.

Mehdi Hasan: Three and $3.5bn. Have you ever thought about withholding any of that money in order to try and get the Israelis to do the right thing?

Martin Indyk: Again, there are two points here. First of all, it's all military assistance, not economic assistance. Israeli economy is strong ...

Mehdi Hasan: Which makes you complicit in the occupation, incidentally.

Martin Indyk: Fine, we're complicit in the occupation. We're doing our best to try to end the occupation, okay? That's ...

Mehdi Hasan: By abstaining?

Martin Indyk: ... that's what we're about. Come on, Mehdi. So, the first point is, it's military assistance, so to cut that aid because we disagree with Israel's policies is to send a message to Israelis that we're no longer going to be supporting their security. And why is that a problem? It's not just 'cause they face some real threats in the region, but because if they feel that they cannot rely on the United States when it comes to their security, how are we going to get them to take risks for peace?

Mehdi Hasan: But the US Government has withheld money from the Palestinians, but you say it should never withhold any money from the Israelis?

Martin Indyk: I'm saying that there are consequences for withholding money in the present situation, which would be negative towards the efforts that we're trying to make to achieve peace.

Mehdi Hasan: I'm not sure how it could be any more negative. Let's go to the panel, who are waiting patiently. Rachel Shabi is an award-winning British journalist of Iraqi-Jewish heritage, author of Not the Enemy: Israel's Jews from Arab Lands. Rachel is someone who's reported from Jerusalem over several years, followed these issues closely. Do you think the fact that the US is so openly pro-Israel ... that it does or doesn't undermine peace talks?

Rachel Shabi: You know, the US openly says that Israel is its strategic ally. It likes having a very highly militarised and pro-US ally, Israel, in the region. That's a US foreign policy interest. You talk about wanting a peaceful solution; you talk about mediation. Implicitly, there is an assumption of neutrality there that you constantly breach. And, even if we're to accept it on the terms that you set, which is being pro-Israel gives you a lever, great, use it. You have consistently failed to use it. You've consistently allowed Israel to be unaccountable, to not uphold international law, to constantly violate Palestinian rights. What's the point of having a lever if you don't use it?

Martin Indyk: We have used the leverage. We've used it repeatedly. And that has produced, on repeated occasions, offers from Israel to the Palestinians which have gone a very long way to meet their needs. And nobody else, not the UN, not the EU, not the United Kingdom, has been able to do that, only the United States has been able to do that.

Mehdi Hasan: Alan Johnson was a professor of democratic theory before joining BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre, as a Senior Research Fellow. Alan, other governments come together as they did in 2011, for example, to try and pass this UN Security Resolution, basically calling for settlement expansion to stop, which I assume you support. Why can't the United States get behind those efforts? Why can't it use that leverage, in your view?

Alan Johnson: I think there's an assumption behind this discussion, which is that the peace process made has made no progress. In fact, huge progress has been made. Palestinians have recognised Israel; Israel, which used to jail people for speaking to the PLO, has shaken hands on the White House lawn; Mahmoud Abbas was, I think, 30 times in and out of the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem.

Mehdi Hasan: Settlements have doubled, Gaza's been bombed three times.

Alan Johnson: Yeah, I agree with you, but in terms of the indispensable partner that Israel needs in this process, I think that remains the United States, whatever we think of that.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, I just want to bring in Ghada Karmi, British-Palestinian academic, activist, author of Return: A Palestinian Memoir. Ghada Karmi, what do you say to Martin Indyk when he says look, the Palestinians need the Americans to be close to the Israelis because you're not going to be able to get a deal out of the Israelis without American involvement?

Ghada Karmi: Well, all I can say is, I've been listening to Martin Indyk very patiently, and honestly, I hope you won't be offended if I tell you, I have never heard so much baloney in my life. 

Mehdi Hasan: But Ghada, deal with the specific point that Martin raised?

Ghada Karmi: Right, I mean, quite apart from the partiality that the US has towards Israel, which you have confessed, the very way in which this conflict is viewed is wrong. It's fundamentally wrong. We do not have equal parties. So your talk about "we'll leave it to the two parties" is total nonsense, because what we do have is a dominant, powerful, backed by the biggest and most important state in the world, on one side, and on the other, an occupied people with no friends and no resources. That's the truth. So why don't you start dealing with reality and show a bit of honesty? I'm sure you're a nice man but it's not coming across.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, let Martin ...

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, let Martin deal with that specific point.

Martin Indyk: If the Palestinians do not want the United States as the broker of the negotiations, they are free to go and seek any other mediator. Why do they accept the United States as the mediator, if what you say is correct?

Mehdi Hasan: Actually, they asked for the UN, they asked for the UN to be a mediator and you said it's our interest to take it away from the UN.

Martin Indyk: No.

Mehdi Hasan: You just said it to me five minutes ago.

Martin Indyk: When they want to negotiate with Israel, they want the United States in the room. They don't want the United Nations in the room. When they want to impose a settlement on Israel, that's when they go to the United Nations. But the problem with imposing a settlement on Israel is the only one that can impose a settlement on Israel is the one that won't do it, which is the United States.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, conundrum. Isn't the problem that the United States is this great power and the world sees the United States, you know, you push around the United States, you get punished with all sorts of sanctions, invasions sometimes, Israel never seems to suffer any consequences for whatever it does. John Kerry turns up in Israel in 2014, the Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon criticises his mission as being motivated by a sense of messianism. Joe Biden goes to Israel in 2010, they humiliate the vice president by announcing 1,600 new settlement units while he's in town. America does nothing. Why does it continue to tolerate basically being slapped in the face by a close ally?

Martin Indyk: Yeah, I've personally had a problem with all of that and I think that we do need to make it clear to Israeli ministers on the right, who think that they can clip a coupon at America's expense, that it's not acceptable.

Mehdi Hasan: How do you make it clear?

Martin Indyk: Well, you know, they don't have to be welcomed in Washington, for example.

Mehdi Hasan: They don't have to be welcomed in Washington - the prime minister of Israel turns up in Congress last year to give a speech denouncing the President of the United States' signature foreign policy achievement, zero consequences. What does he get in return? $40bn over the next ten years. That's a good deal.

Martin Indyk: Yeah and I'm sure that there are people in Israel who'd say he got away with it. I think that the Prime Minister made a big mistake and I'm on the record many times as saying that.

Mehdi Hasan: Should he have to apologise?

Martin Indyk: No, I don't think that that matters. I think he shouldn't have made the speech and he shouldn't have gone behind the President's back.

Mehdi Hasan: And yet in 2010, you wrote an email which has now been released as part of Clinton's emails, in which you told her negotiating team that Netanyahu "lacks a generosity of spirit" and "humiliates his Palestinian counterparts". You then, however, advise them nevertheless, "Put your arm about Bibi because there's no substitute for working with him, and the purpose of embracing him is to nudge him forward." Basically, no consequences for bad behaviour, you reward bad behaviour. He's really bad, he's "self-defeating," I think you called his tactics, but nevertheless, give him a hug. Put your arm around him.

Martin Indyk: Yes, but it's ...

Mehdi Hasan: No consequences.

Martin Indyk: It's this, you see, that's the theory.

Mehdi Hasan: What does that mean?

Mehdi Hasan: Put your arm around Bibi. 

Mehdi Hasan: So you were really calling for a headlock, not a hug - is that what you're saying?

Martin Indyk: Close to it, yes, thank you.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, I'm just wondering, have you ever asked ...

Martin Indyk: Thank you for that interpretation.

Mehdi Hasan: Have you ever asked for the American Government to put their, put their arm around the Palestinian President, just out of interest, or do only Israelis get hugs?

Martin Indyk: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Because you don't account for the other side of this at all. Okay

Martin Indyk: And neither do you ...

Mehdi Hasan: Well, let me, let me ...

Martin Indyk: ... Which is that the United States has moved dramatically on the Palestinian issue, from treating it only as a refugee issue and insisting that it be dealt with through Jordan, to recognising Palestinian national rights, recognising, a willingness to recognise a Palestinian ...

Mehdi Hasan: And doing nothing about it.

Martin Indyk: No, that's not true. We have ... we have worked harder than anybody else, and I'll apologise to nobody for the efforts that we've made to try to resolve this problem.

Mehdi Hasan: Just very quickly, I notice in your book, you refer to Arafat as, "an Artful Dodger" and as a "bazaar merchant." I couldn't find you using such disparaging, some might say racial stereotypes, about Israeli leaders in your book in the same way.

Mehdi Hasan: ... And this is your book.

Martin Indyk: I, you know, of course I'm driving ...

Mehdi Hasan: You said he was a "bazaar merchant" "out to extort the customer in a hurry".

Martin Indyk: No, he ...

Mehdi Hasan: Your words.

Martin Indyk: Not "out to extort a customer in a hurry", but in any case ... I was trying to ...

Mehdi Hasan: "For the bizarre merchant, customers in a hurry are the most vulnerable to extortion."

Martin Indyk: You know, Arafat was exactly what I described there.

Mehdi Hasan: And another phrase you've used over the years is "demographic threat" in reference to the growing Palestinian population inside the Green Line. Many Palestinians would say it's dehumanising, it's inflammatory, racist even, to refer to Palestinian babies as a demographic threat.

Martin Indyk: I've never heard that before. I think that it's a complete misunderstanding of what the reference is to. A demographic threat is the idea that if Israel doesn't find a way to make peace with the Palestinians, its ... the Jewish nature of the state and the democratic nature of the state will be in jeopardy, they'll be in conflict, because by 2020, 2025, by some countings already, Israel will no longer have a majority of Jews in the Jewish state.

Mehdi Hasan: You're saying the choice ...

Martin Indyk: And that's the demographic threat.

Mehdi Hasan: You've said the choice between being Jewish and being democratic, that Israel will have to make that choice. "We are at that point," you have said. You've said that Israeli settlements could, quote, "drive Israel into an irreversible binational reality," even though you believe there's no other solution apart from the two-state solution. I always hear US officials saying this: the window is closing, the time's running out, the point of no return is being reached. At what stage does it become too late, in your view?

Martin Indyk: I honestly don't know. What I know is, when we get to that point, the two-state solution will be resurrected. It's like the kings and queens of England, you know. The peace process is dead, long live the peace process. It keeps on coming back. Amazing thing, Mehdi, amazing thing.

Mehdi Hasan: Ghada Karmi, do you agree with Martin Indyk that it can't be too late because the two-state solution will simply be resurrected when the time is right?

Ghada Karmi: There is no possibility of two states for a very simple reason: that the land, the territory that would be needed for a Palestinian state hardly exists. It's full of Israeli settlements. But secondly, without the United States being able to use any kind of pressure on Israel, there will be no two-state solution, there will be nothing. And the truth is that the US is unable to pressure Israel. It's not unwilling, it's unable.

Today Israel is one state - it rules another people, it occupies them in one state, but the problem with that one state is it's an apartheid state. One side has rights, the other has none, so the issue really is not having two states; the issue is converting this apartheid situation into one of equity and equal democratic rights and no apartheid. That's the thing before us.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, let me bring in Alan Johnson, who's shaking his head there.

Alan Johnson: I just disagree with Ghada, not on the basis of the settlements aren't a problem. No disagreement there. The facts, though, if you talk to Settlement Watch, Peace Now, people involved in Israel in this process, they say to you a 6 percent land swap will bring about 35 of every 40 settlers back into Little Israel, proper Israel. That's doable, that kind of land swap. The EU supports it, the United States supports it, and crucially, the Arab League now supports it. You asked the question before of when does it become impossible, I'll give you my answer: when it becomes politically impossible for Israel to bring back over the number of settlers that are needed in order to make the two-state solution possible.

Mehdi Hasan: And when's that?

Alan Johnson: The reason I don't think we're near there yet, many settlers are economic settlers. They will come back with their compensation and relocation package. The Israeli public itself, when asked before a recent election, if we had to face austerity, what should be top of the list of budget cuts, they said the settlement project.

Mehdi Hasan: So why hasn't it happened?

Alan Johnson: Mehdi, I think your assumption is that Israel holds peace in the palm of its hand, it's just won't open it.

Mehdi Hasan: Not peace, but it holds the decision to build settlements in the palm of its hand, and it keeps doing it.

Martin Indyk: But you do focus on settlements, which is fair, and I agree they're a problem, but you don't focus on the other side ...

Mehdi Hasan: An Israeli newspaper ...

Martin Indyk: ... Which is Palestinian violence, Palestinian terror, Palestinian rockets from Gaza.

Mehdi Hasan: Obviously ... So when I get, when I get, when I get ...

Martin Indyk: They don't figure in ...

Mehdi Hasan: When I get a diplomat ...

Martin Indyk: ... in your ...

Mehdi Hasan: ... from a country that blindly backs the Palestinians, I promise you I'll ask him that question. Interestingly, you keep saying settlements are a problem. An unnamed US official from the peace talks told the Israel press that the primary sabotage was the settlements. That was widely believed to be you, was it you?

Martin Indyk: Well, that was an unnamed official, so ...

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, but you're not denying it.

Martin Indyk: I'm sure that unnamed official knew what he was talking about.

Mehdi Hasan: Good, so we ... so me, you and the unnamed official all agree that the primary sabotage was done by the settlements. Rachel Shabi, do you want to come in here?

Rachel Shabi: We are talking about people's lives. Every day that you fail, people will die and suffer, so, you know, it's not a diplomatic spin game that we're trying to win here.

Martin Indyk: Believe me, I know that.

Rachel Shabi: Okay.

Martin Indyk: I live with that every day.

Rachel Shabi: Okay, well that's good to know.

Martin Indyk: Believe me.

Rachel Shabi: On the settlements, we have been watching this peace process for a long time - Oslo, Camp David, Annapolis, Washington, and then 2014 with you involved again. We all know you didn't discover in 2014 that the settlements were the biggest obstacles to peace. Given that you all know that and yet you're still reluctant to push that lever, it just creates the impression that for you, the process is more important than the peace, and therefore you are constantly undermining the peace.

Martin Indyk: Well, I think that's ... that's a fair criticism. What happened in 2014 was that John Kerry, through a herculean effort, managed to get the parties back to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, the only way he was able to do that was to work out a deal in which there were nine months of negotiations in exchange for four tranches of prisoner releases. That's what the Palestinians chose. There was a second door which was a settlement freeze, and they didn't insist on that at the time. They went for a prisoner deal.

Rachel Shabi: Well, they didn't expect Netanyahu to expand settlements every time they released a prisoner ... which he did.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay ... but we need to ...

Martin Indyk: Saeb Erekat was on this programme, and he said that.

Mehdi Hasan: Yes.

Martin Indyk: He did it for the prisoners.

Mehdi Hasan: I know.

Martin Indyk: But the problem was, there was no agreement to stop the settlements ...

Mehdi Hasan: Yes ... You should tell that ...

Martin Indyk: And it was the settlements that screwed up the negotiations.

Rachel Shabi: And ...

Mehdi Hasan: It was the settlements that screwed up the negotiations, you admit that, okay.

Martin Indyk: It's not an admission, it is a charge. It was a major problem.

Mehdi Hasan: Fine.

Mehdi Hasan: Martin Indyk, you've said in the past that you shared Bill Clinton's view on Middle East peacemaking - that it was better to try and fail than not to try at all. Given you've tried and failed under both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, do you personally still hold that view?

Martin Indyk: Yes, and I will never give up, it's a Churchillian dictum: never ever, ever, ever give up. And ... and why? It's because it is better to try and fail than not to try at all.

Mehdi Hasan: We're going to have to take a break there. In part two we're going to talk about the US-Israeli relationship and what's behind that relationship. Head to Head will be back after the break. 

PART TWO

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome back to Head to Head on Al Jazeera English. My guest here in the Oxford Union is Martin Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel. Martin, there are many competing theories as to why the United States Government is so pro-Israel. Some say it's because of shared values; others say it's due to strategic interests, others say it's because of the power and influence of pro-Israeli lobbying organisations in Washington DC. I just want to ask you first about the strategic argument. General David Petraeus, former Director of the CIA, has said that the Israel-Palestine conflict foments anti-American sentiment. Even the late Meir Dagan, who was Head of Mossad, of Israeli Intelligence, has said, quote, "Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States into a burden." Do you agree with them?

Martin Indyk: No, I ... I don't agree with that. I think that Israel, particularly in its relationship now with Egypt and with Jordan, is working in a common strategic interest to deal with threats in the region beyond the issue of Palestine. But I do believe that making progress on the Palestinian issue enhances America's credibility in the region, and failing to make progress on the Palestinian issue hurts America's credibility in the region.

Mehdi Hasan: And what about the power and influence of pro-Israeli lobbying organisations in DC, like AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which you worked for briefly in the 1980s? Would you say it's all a conspiracy theory, it's all anti-Semitism to talk about the power of lobbying organisations? Or would you say, no, actually, they do put a straightjacket on US governments and hinder interests of the US in the region?

Martin Indyk: AIPAC is indeed a powerful lobby on behalf of Israel. There's no doubt that its influence constrains what an administration can consider that it would do.

Mehdi Hasan: You said in 2006, "The lobby at Congress has put a straightjacket on administrations in a way that has not been productive for American interests."

Martin Indyk: That's me?

Mehdi Hasan: That is you.

Martin Indyk: I don't recognise that quote. 

Mehdi Hasan: From the London Review of Books debate. Okay, you, well ... You've also said, you've also said, and I hope you recognise this one, that you've "taken a lot of heat" from the Israel lobby and you have "the scars to show for it".

Martin Indyk: Correct.

Mehdi Hasan: Thereby accepting that the pro-Israeli organisations play a detrimental and powerful role in this process.

Martin Indyk: I didn't say detrimental. I think ...

Mehdi Hasan: Well, if you're working for peace and they're scarring your back, then are they not detrimental?

Martin Indyk: Peacemaking is a blood sport. When you're in the arena, you inevitably face criticism. You know, precisely because I'm seen to have come from a pro-Israel community, there is an expectation that all I will do will represent is represent Israel's interests. And my answer is no, I'm there to represent America's interests in making peace, which I happen to believe also serves Israel's interests, but they, some of them, don't agree.

Mehdi Hasan: Listen to Ze'ev Sternhell, award-winning Israeli intellectual, self-proclaimed "super-Zionist". He says "AIPAC's role is absolutely disastrous because it prevents any possibility to move with the Palestinians. We cannot move without American intervention, but we are more or less free of American intervention. This is AIPAC's job: to give the Israeli government a sentiment of impunity."

Martin Indyk: AIPAC is caught in a kind of bind here, because even though, as I say, they represent the pro-Israel community in the United States, they also adhere to the policies of the Israeli government. And, as a result, they're caught often in a situation, especially when there's tension or confrontation between an Israeli government, usually a right-wing government but not always, and an American administration.

Mehdi Hasan: You say they're aligned with Israeli government views; you'd accept they don't actually represent American Jewish opinion all that often when it comes to Israel-Palestine, who are much more dovish, to use the phrase.

Martin Indyk: Well, you know, there were 18,000 pro-Israelis at the AIPAC conference. That was a pretty strong expression of representation there and then. But yes, there are others in the Jewish community that don't agree with the kind of Kool-Aid test that AIPAC presents.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, and one last question before we go to our panel: you've been associated with, you've spoken at J Street, which was founded in 2009 as a kind of progressive counterweight to AIPAC. 

In 2014, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations voted not to admit J Street into their umbrella group because, in the words of one Orthodox leader, "Its positions are out of the mainstream of what could be considered acceptable." The Conservative American Jewish American establishment has shut down progressive Jewish voices time and again, hasn't it, in the United States?

Martin Indyk: Yeah, and I think they've made a huge mistake in doing so. They've actually boosted J Street dramatically; it's been totally counterproductive. But J Street needs to be part of the dialogue. It is, it's made itself part of the dialogue, precisely because they are pro-Israel and pro-peace. And that's critically important; it's especially important for a younger generation of ... in the American Jewish community who need to be able to support Israel in a way that makes sense to them. And J Street has a way to reach them in a way that AIPAC has great difficulty doing.

Martin Indyk: Let's go back to our panel. Ghada Karmi is a British-Palestinian activist, author, author of a recent memoir, Return. Ghada Karmi, there's no pro-Palestinian version of AIPAC. Is that why the Palestinians are not getting their voices heard, in your view, in the US?

Ghada Karmi: No, but it's one of the factors. There's no doubt that if there were a Palestinian organisation, or pro-Palestinian organisation, that was funded so heavily as the other side is, it would help. But I don't believe that that's the central problem here. You have a vicious circle in which Israel rampages around the region, rampages against the Palestinians and nobody does anything to stop it.

Martin Indyk: Where is Israel rampaging around the region now?

Ghada Karmi: Oh really, so you think being in occupation ...

Martin Indyk: What is the rampage?

Ghada Karmi: ... of the Syrian Golan Heights, bombing Lebanon, still being in occupation of part of Lebanon

Martin Indyk: You know, I'm glad you ...

Ghada Karmi: ... bombing Gaza.

Martin Indyk: ... brought up Syria because ...

Ghada Karmi: Do you think that's not rampaging?

Martin Indyk: ... there you had five Israeli prime ministers who was involved in this, all offered the regime of Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, all of them. And it comes back to the Palestinians. We have Barak and Olmert offering the Palestinians 95 percent to 97 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza, and they didn't take it.

Ghada Karmi: You know what ...

Martin Indyk: So, you know, there are two sides to every story.

Ghada Karmi: Why, yes.

Martin Indyk: It's not just Israel's fault.

Ghada Karmi: Yes, but let me ... but please ...

Ghada Karmi: I'm glad you've got lots of friends here. But what I wanted to say to you, it's rather like, you know, you, you steal my wallet, which has, let's say, $100 in it, and then I come along and say, "let's come to an agreement about this." And you say, "Fine, I'm going to offer you, I'm going to offer you $60, I keep the $40. Now, aren't I generous?" 

Martin Indyk: You have more friends than I have in the audience. But, its ... look, if you cannot be satisfied, it's fine, it's fine.

Ghada Karmi: We don't have anything.

Martin Indyk: I understand it. But if you can't be satisfied with 95 percent to 97 percent of the West Bank ...

Ghada Karmi: Where is it?

Martin Indyk: ... and all of Gaza, then we cannot have a two-state solution.

Mehdi Hasan: Because we don't have time, we can't get into this, but the 95, 97, you know, is questioned by many Israelis, many Palestinians, many Americans.

Martin Indyk: I was there.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay.

Martin Indyk: I was there.

Mehdi Hasan: There were people who were there also who disagree with you. 

Martin Indyk: No, I ...

Mehdi Hasan: Yeah, they happen to be called Palestinians.

Martin Indyk: Look, it's easy to make fun of this.

Mehdi Hasan: I'm not making fun of it. You said you were there. I'm just saying ...

Martin Indyk: It's there in terms of what Clinton offered them.

Mehdi Hasan: And both sides tabled reservations to the Clinton Parameters in December 2000, as you well know. Alan ...

Martin Indyk: No, Barak accepted them.

Mehdi Hasan: That's not true, but we'll have to agree to disagree on that.

Martin Indyk: Excuse me, I was there ...

Mehdi Hasan: Okay.

Martin Indyk: ... when the fax came from Barak's office to my residence ...

Mehdi Hasan: Okay.

Martin Indyk: ... 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.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, Alan Johnson ...

Mehdi Hasan: Alan Johnson was a professor of democratic theory before joining BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre as a Senior Research Fellow. 

Alan, you work for what's called by some of your critics Britain's pro-Israel lobby. Surely you wouldn't dispute that groups such as AIPAC in the United States do exercise a lot of power and influence and sometimes, many times, in a way that prevents the making of peace in the Middle East?

Alan Johnson: I think it would be ridiculous to say that AIPAC didn't exercise significant influence. I think, though, it's vastly overstated, and the proof of that was that when Barack Obama wanted to drive through the P5 1 Iran nuclear deal, it had no impact. Now one other point, there's a common sense amongst people, which I think is some distance from where AIPAC is. And I think we saw that most clearly with their treatment and reception of Donald Trump at their recent conference. I mean, the whooping and the hollering and the cheering of Donald Trump, I thought was appalling, and for two reasons. One, who Trump is. Trump is the most, foremost American anti-Muslim bigot. He's a misogynist and he's a xenophobe. And secondly, for who AIPAC is, which it's ... it will be seen by many Jews and many non-Jews as ... they'll be estranged from the pro-Israel case because they're liberals, they're Democrats and they have very different values to that, huge mistake.

Mehdi Hasan: Rachel Shabi is an award-winning British journalist, Iraqi Jewish heritage, author of Not the Enemy: Israel's Jews from Arab Lands. Martin was saying he doesn't think that Israel is a strategic burden to the United States. Many have argued it's an asset in some ways. Where do you stand on that debate now?

Rachel Shabi: First of all, just because we're falling into this dynamic of being very partisan, and "intractable conflict", actually it is perfectly possible to want peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. Please let's not lose sight of that. That position exists. It's perfectly tenable. Secondly, I disagree with you, Ghada. I don't think that the US is unable to exercise ... make Israel exercise restraint. I think it's unwilling to do it because Israel is a strategic asset. You pretend to be about peace and democracy in the region, and, you know, it just creates mammoth, mammoth problems. I mean, that is the bit that's problematic ...

Mehdi Hasan: Okay ...

Rachel Shabi: ... that is the bit that is seen as hypocritical and contradictory.

Mehdi Hasan: Let Martin come back in here, and then we'll go to the audience.

Martin Indyk: Look, I don't think that anybody is under any illusion that the United States is in Israel's corner. We don't hide that, we say it. We shout it from the rooftops.

Mehdi Hasan: So then why did John Kerry say we can be an honest broker?

Martin Indyk: Well, because the two are not inconsistent. I know this is hard to accept ...

Mehdi Hasan: It is very hard. I admit it's very hard for me.

Martin Indyk: ... but the two are not inconsistent, because it's an attempt to try to listen to both sides, figure out what their basic needs are, and come forward with a plan that would be acceptable to both sides.

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, let's go to our audience who have been waiting patiently here in the Oxford Union. Let's take the gentleman in the glasses in the third row.

Audience participant 1: As a Human Rights lawyer in the past in Israel, I feel that I cannot raise my family in Israel, and indirectly, because of America's support of Israel, Israel is no longer a viable democracy, one that is currently and over the past five, six years, is constantly in conflict between its Jewish identity and its democratic identity. And while America challenges almost every country in the world in terms of protection of Human Rights, it does not do that. And Human Rights organisations are currently under constant threat, and America says nothing about that. Thank you.

Martin Indyk: Well, first of all, that's not true. If you go and look on the State Department website at the latest Human Rights report on Israel, you will see some pretty harsh criticism of Israeli actions in the West Bank. And if you go back through the years, you will see very harsh criticism. That said, it is a democracy, and it's a shame for Israel that you had to leave because you need to be there. And all of these NGOs that are under attack there need to be defended. And the United States will stand up for them, and the United States is telling the Israeli Government, "We will oppose that kind of legislation that some of your Knesset members are trying to pass."

Mehdi Hasan: But when you say, "We don't agree with what you're doing," and they say, "Who cares?" what do you do about it? 

Martin Indyk: If you're talking about cutting aid, if that's what you're talking about, yes, I can imagine that some circumstances would arise. That has happened before and I don't rule it out that it would happen in the future. 

Mehdi Hasan: Let's go back to our audience. Let's go to the gentleman here in the second row and then I want to go to the back.

Audience participant 2: My granddad left Palestine to Lebanon in 1947. And so my question to you is: how can you justify denying Palestinians right of return as a precondition to peace whilst abetting settlers to live in Israel? 

Martin Indyk: Palestinian refugees need to have a solution to their problem and to their suffering, but it cannot come at the expense of Israel's existence. And so the two have to be reconciled. There is a way of reconciling them. It's in the Clinton Parameters, to give the Palestinians a right of return to Palestine, and a choice about other places where they could go, including Israel, and plus compensation for their suffering. And that package are a solution for the Palestinian, Palestinian refugees is going to have to be part of a final status agreement that ends the claims as well as ending the conflict. 

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, let's go back to our audience. Let's go to someone at the back.

Audience participant 3: My question is how do you justify the thousands of American Jewish, like, young teenagers join the Israeli Army every year, 'cause I have paid a visit to Jerusalem and then I met several of them, and they are over-idealised on this holy war. Sometimes I felt like, how is that different from, like, the British Jihadists over-idealised their holy war as well.

Martin Indyk: Well, first of all, American Jews can become Israelis, join the Israel Defence Forces. They have to operate under Israeli Defence Force regulations, and as far as I know, those regulations don't provide for a Holy Jihad. But I think that there are some American Jews who are settlers, who are idealised and, as I said before, that kind of approach, which is designed to take the West Bank because that's the land that God gave to Israel, is, is an approach that is against the two-state solution, and therefore I am against it.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, let's go back to the audience. Gentleman here in the second row in the suit.

Audience participant 4: As an Israeli, I am ... I feel very privileged to be living at a ... at a time that the Jewish people, for the first time in around 2000 years, do have the ability to defend themselves, so it's understood why it is expected that Israel makes concessions more than others. But from my experience, working with peace groups and Palestinians in the West Bank, they have never taken responsibility or agreed that they need to make concessions themselves. Terror have started from the 1920s, before there were any settlements to this day. What do you think the concessions that the Palestinians need to do, if they even need to do any concessions?

Mehdi Hasan: Briefly.

Martin Indyk: You know, I think it's not accurate to say the Palestinians have made no concessions. The Palestinian Authority leadership in the PLO have accepted to live side-by-side with Israel. That is an historic compromise, in which they're only claiming, what is it, 40 percent of historic Palestine.

Mehdi Hasan: 22 percent.

Martin Indyk: 22 percent, sorry.

Mehdi Hasan: Much lower.

Martin Indyk: That's number one. Number two, they have accepted that there should be land swaps. And land swaps would enable Israel to absorb some 75 percent to 80 percent of the settlers who live in 6 percent of the West Bank, provided that Israel provides 6 percent of Israel proper for the Palestinians.

Mehdi Hasan: Can we go to the lady right at the back, yes?

Audience participant 5: I just wanted to ask you: why do you think it is okay for Israel to have a covert nuclear bomb, but not for Iran?

Martin Indyk: An Iran with nuclear weapons threatening to destroy Israel would trigger a nuclear arms race, if not an Israel attack on Iran. And that's why we ...

Mehdi Hasan: Do you not think Israel having nukes triggers a regional arms race?

Martin Indyk: Well, you know, if Israel has nukes ...

Mehdi Hasan: Oh, if? Do they not have nukes? Does Israel not have nukes?

Martin Indyk: If Israel has nukes, what's interesting, there ... I mean, there's a widespread assumption that Israel has nuclear weapons, it has not triggered an arms race in the region. The Egyptians ...

Mehdi Hasan: Do you share that assumption that Israel has nuclear weapons?

Martin Indyk: The Egyptians ...

Mehdi Hasan: I know Israeli policy is not to admit to nuclear weapons.

Martin Indyk: Any of Israel's ...

Mehdi Hasan: You're not an Israeli, can you tell me if they have nuclear weapons? 

Martin Indyk: Enjoy yourself, Mehdi, I'm not going to answer your question.

Mehdi Hasan: Why?

Martin Indyk: Well, because, you know, it's an issue which I, as a government official, former government official ...

Mehdi Hasan: A US government official.

Martin Indyk: ... still advising, it's not something that ...

Mehdi Hasan: Not Israeli government official. Why can't the US government say if Israel has nukes or not?

Martin Indyk: ... I'm not going to opine on it. The issue is whether Israel threatens the region. None of the Arabs around Israel consider that Israel's capabilities present a threat to them. They do consider that Iran's ...

Mehdi Hasan: Okay.

Martin Indyk: ... nuclear capability presents a threat.

Mehdi Hasan: Let's go to this gentleman in the beard.

Audience participant 6: Israel has broken 65 UN resolutions; Iraq broke two and was invaded, destroyed and bombed. Why are there such double standards in dealing with countries who violate United Nations resolutions? 

Martin Indyk: I seem to be put in this role where I'm supposed to be defending Israel. I'd rather defend the United States.

Mehdi Hasan: No, no, I don't think he's ... I don't think he asked about Israel, he asked about Iraq. Amer ... America invaded Iraq. I think he's making the point that the United States invaded Iraq for defying 22 UN resolutions and Israel's defied lots of resolutions and it doesn't even get ...

Martin Indyk: And so ...

Mehdi Hasan: It might get an abstention. 

Martin Indyk: And so we should invade, we should invade Israel?

Mehdi Hasan: No, not invade, but how do you explain the double standards in terms of treatment of countries and international law?

Martin Indyk: Look, the double standards argument is ... is an argument that is used by Israel and by critics of Israel. So, you know, I don't find it's a particularly productive way of dealing with the problems. The United States, yes, we have double standards, it's true. We have double standards. We do our best to try to be consistent but it's not always simple. You know, it's simple to be, to do it at the Oxford Union, but it's not always simple when you're in government, when you've got a ... way different interests, one of which is a very important human rights standard. As Americans, that is important. 

Mehdi Hasan: Okay.

Martin Indyk: But there are a lot of other interests at stake too and sometimes the balance doesn't come out. It's the ...

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, Martin ...

Martin Indyk: ... province of small powers to be righteous ...

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, you ...

Martin Indyk: ... like Sweden, for instance.

Mehdi Hasan: You made the point. Last question, gentleman here in the jacket.

Audience participant 7: I worked as a UN medical officer in Gaza for a couple of years. In 2014, the Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital, four substantial buildings, was razed by Israeli attacks with US arms. 

Now that same year, as you know already, a lot of civilians were killed, again with US arms. Three that meant a great deal to our family. It was a woman who was eight months pregnant and her three-year-old child and six-year-old child. Now those two children were two of over 500 children that were killed during that assault. They were good friends of ours; they are no longer; the family was destroyed.

The US continues to arm Israel with state-of-the-art weaponry to the teeth. Can the US justify, in the light of the use of those arms against medical facilities and women and children, on the scale that they continue to provide them?

Martin Indyk: First of all, on a personal level, I'd just say that the killing of innocent children is unacceptable by anybody, period. I'm not trying to put it as a justification, but I am trying to put it in context, that Israeli civilians will come under attack by Hamas rockets. It ended up to be thousands of them, but I'm not presenting it as an excuse, okay. I hope you will understand that. It's not acceptable that children die. But when Hamas hides its rockets in civilian areas, purposely doing so in order that when Israel comes to try to destroy the rockets, it kills Gazan children ...

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, Martin ...

Martin Indyk: ... that creates a circumstance in which Hamas also needs to take responsibility.

Mehdi Hasan: One final question before we run out of time: you were at the heart of the US-led peace process under both Presidents Clinton and Obama. You've been a Special Envoy, a senior State Department official, a US Ambassador to Israel. Given that process has clearly failed, whatever happens in the future, as of now has failed, there is no peace, there is no process, do you feel personally responsible for that failure in any way?

Martin Indyk: Yes. 

Mehdi Hasan: And what can you do about that now?

Martin Indyk: What do you want from me, Mehdi? All I can do is ...

Mehdi Hasan: No, no, serious note, you went back in 2013 ...

Martin Indyk: All I can do is ...

Mehdi Hasan: Would you go back again? Would you do it again?

Martin Indyk: Until I draw my last breath, I will not give up on trying to resolve this conflict in a way that meets Palestinian legitimate national aspirations to an independent and viable, contiguous state, living alongside Israel, a Jewish state, in peace.

Mehdi Hasan: Martin Indyk, on that note, thank you for joining me. Thank you so much for coming here to join me on Head to Head and take all these questions. Thanks to our panel for putting some questions, and thanks to our audience who are in the Oxford Union. That's our show. Thanks for watching Head to Head. Thank you.

Source: Al Jazeera