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The Washington Post, 2nd February, 1995:

Choice for Israel Took Unconventional Route Quick Rise

By Al Kamen

Washington Post Staff Writer

 

Secretary of State Warren Christopher was having trouble last summer
picking a new ambassador to Israel. He wanted someone the Israelis were
comfortable with, someone they would see as expert in the peace process
as well as someone with ready access to the highest administration
officials.

He found what seemed the ideal fit: Martin Indyk.

Indyk was the National Security Council's senior director for Mideast
matters, President Clinton's right-hand man for the region. An
articulate Middle East expert and former head of a a pro-Israel think
tank, Indyk was highly regarded by Christopher and national security
adviser Anthony Lake.

But if Indyk's nomination - to be taken up today by the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee - now seems obvious, it is also unconventional. And
his nomination shows how an itinerant college professor - and an
Australian to boot - maneuvered through the think-tank world to the top
of the U.S. diplomatic corps in a dozen years.

If confirmed, Indyk would be the first Jewish ambassador to Israel
since the founding of the Jewish state, countering the long-held view at
the State Department that sending a Jewish ambassador to Israel - or a
Greek to Greece or an Italian to Italy - would inherently raise a
conflict of interest.

Indyk also would likely be the newest U.S. citizen sent abroad to
represent this country. Raised in Australia, he became a U.S. citizen in
January 1993, little more than a week before Clinton appointed him to
the NSC job.

In addition, he may be the first ambassador to have worked for another
country's intelligence service. In 1978 he was for 10 months Australia's
deputy director of current intelligence for the Middle East.

Also, the 43-year-old would be the first non-career ambassador to
Israel since 1973. He neither crawled up State's steep career ladder nor
did he buy the slot through political contributions. Rather, Indyk is a
policy wonk whose lifelong "obsession" - as he often puts it - has
been the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Despite his unusual background, Indyk has support throughout the
foreign policy community. William Quandt, a former Carter White House
aide who has often disagreed with Indyk, said he would make a good
ambassador because "he's got good diplomatic skills and he's smart
politically."

The Palestine Liberation Organization backs him. "His religion and
background does not make any difference as far as we are concerned,"
said Hasan Abdel Rahman, the PLO's chief representative in Washington.
"He understands the politics of the region . . . we can work with him.
His commitment to Israel, with the right vision, may be even helpful to
the peace process. Anybody who has the interests of Israel at heart and
has a vision for the future will support an equitable peace with the
Palestinians."

But Indyk is criticized by some as too tied to pro-Israel groups.
Former U.S. ambassador to Israel William Harrop called the nomination "a
profound mistake" and "bad for the Jewish community, bad for Israel, bad
for the United States and bad for the peace process."

Indyk has credited his meteoric ascent to this country's willingness to
welcome "anyone with a decent idea and a bit of energy and ambition."

Admirers cite his intellect, an entrepreneurial genius that attracted
powerful political and financial backers, and his ingratiating charm and
wit - replete with a disarming grin that recalls British comedian Terry
Thomas.

His critics call him "an operator" whose networking skills and
political gamesmanship stand out in a town of gamesmen.

Indyk, who declined to be quoted for this article, has talked in the
past to friends and reporters about why he emigrated to the United
States.

He quit his Australian intelligence job, he has said, because he was
frustrated by bureaucratic battles and by the lack of interest in the
only region he cared about: the Middle East.

Indyk, who has a doctorate in international relations from Australian
National University, dabbled in academia for three years only to find
Australian students no more enthusiastic about the Mideast than the
country's bureaucrats were.

Indyk took a six-month sabbatical at Columbia University in 1982. While
in New York, an old friend invited him to Washington to help set up a
research department for the powerful pro-Israel lobby, the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Within a year Indyk became frustrated anew: His research was not taken
seriously because AIPAC was seen as an Israeli propaganda organ. At the
same time, he felt that the traditional think tanks in Washington were
too pro-Arab.

With the backing of an AIPAC board member and $100,000 in
contributions, largely from the Jewish community, he became executive
director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in early
1985.

This was never going to be just another academic study group.

"We were very driven with this sense that we were not just around
spinning ideas," an early participant said. It was clear "that we were
really trying to influence policy. We focused narrowly on the Washington
policy-making community, and we were going to try to influence them and
to educate them. We felt that the [U.S.] policy at that time was based
on false assumptions and that we should try to change that" to a more
pro-Israel view, the participant said.

But Indyk understood that it was critical for the new institute to
distance itself from AIPAC if it was to have any credibility. Arab views
had to be aired and published, as did a range of Israeli views. Anyone
labeling the institute as part of, or a spinoff of, AIPAC or even as
"pro-Israel" was admonished that it was independent and "pro-American."

Critics ruefully acknowledge Indyk's success in repositioning himself
and the institute.

James Zogby, executive director of the Arab American Institute here,
said, "What they were able to do was define their pro-Israel leaning
into invisibility, and they challenged indignantly anyone who said
otherwise. And it worked."

"Indyk did a great job at turning it into a very serious and credible
organization," said Quandt. "It was originally thought to be the arm of
[AIPAC], and it seemed that way at first," but Indyk steered it to a
more independent approach, he said.

The institute's budget rose quickly to more than $1 million and it
employed 10 full-time staffers. It became the center of the debate on
the Middle East, crowding out more traditional think tanks.

Former vice president Walter F. Mondale, former secretaries of state
George P. Shultz and Alexander Haig, former U.N. ambassador Jeane J.
Kirkpatrick and other luminaries joined its advisory board.

Khalil Jahshan, head of the National Association of Arab Americans,
said, "It is the most dramatic success story in lobbying and influencing
decision-making I've seen in this town in the 20 years I've been here."

In 1988, Indyk was part of a trio of Jewish leaders who briefed
presidential candidate and then-Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis
on Mideast issues.

In early 1989, Secretary of State James A. Baker III laid out U.S.
policy for the region in a speech that closely tracked a 1988 institute
study urging a gradual, slow approach to the peace process and
reciprocal "confidence-building" steps by Israel and the Palestinians.
Six of the experts who worked on the institute's report landed top
policy-making positions in the Bush administration.

Indyk briefed former president George Bush on the Middle East in 1989,
invited by Dennis Ross, who knew Indyk when both were at AIPAC. Ross was
head of policy planning at the State Department for Bush and is now
point man there for Mideast policy.

By the 1992 presidential campaign, Indyk and the institute were
briefing Democrats and Republicans alike.

But Indyk's effort for Clinton was more pronounced. Indyk first briefed
the president in September 1991, before he announced his candidacy.
Indyk briefed him three times after that and wrote a policy paper for
the transition team.

Indyk's view, based on his writings and speeches then, was to continue
the Bush approach. But he also felt that the end of the Cold War, Iraq's
defeat in the Gulf War and the election of a Labor government in Israel
gave Clinton a golden opportunity to move the peace process forward.

Indyk "told Clinton he could obtain four treaties by the time he
finished his first term," said a source who attended the briefings: one
with Israel and the PLO, another with Jordan, a third with Lebanon and a
fourth with Syria.

"That is something that I want to do," Clinton responded.

When NSC director Lake offered Indyk the White House job in
mid-December 1992, there was one hitch: He was not a U.S. citizen.
Indyk, who obtained a "green card" in 1987, applied for citizenship in
mid-1992, sources said, shortly after he completed the required five
years as a permanent resident.

He took the citizenship examination at the Immigration and
Naturalization Service office in Arlington that fall - missing a
question about the number of members of Congress - and was sworn in at
a group ceremony at federal court here on Jan. 12, 1993.

Ten days later he was on the job. Arab Americans protested his
appointment. "To choose a person with a highly partisan background to be
the gatekeeper on Mideast issues, controlling the information traffic to
the president's desk, was unwise," Jahshan said. He said, however, that
he would not oppose Indyk's nomination.

But former senator James Abourezk (D-S.D.), national chairman of the
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, objects, although, he said,
"he'll do less damage to America there than in the White House." Harrop
said it may be time to break the tradition of not having a Jew as U.S.
ambassador to Israel, but that it was wrong to send a former AIPAC
employee who was "so strongly associated with Israel" for that job.
Indyk's "been an American" only two years, Harrop said.

Indyk's supporters say his background will enable him to speak frankly
to Israeli leaders. Another former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Samuel W.
Lewis, agrees. "I can't think of anyone who would be a better choice,"
Lewis said, adding that Indyk has "credibility with the Arab
governments." And, Lewis said, he has "been a central player and knows
all the actors well and can hit the ground running in a way no one I
know could do."

Washington Post staff researcher Barbara J. Saffir contributed to this report.

 


 



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