U.S. envoy to the Middle East Martin Indyk announced on June 28 that he was quitting his job "battered and unbowed."
But Indyk forgot to mention that he is also leaving his job after Palestinian Authority [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas succeeded in tricking him and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Abbas has, in fact, emerged as the biggest winner from the nine-month peace talks, which ended in failure in late April. Abbas proved that it is easy to fool the Americans into thinking that he would be able to sign a peace agreement with Israel that included concessions unacceptable to most Palestinians.
Abbas managed to persuade the Americans that the release of Palestinian prisoners imprisoned by Israel before the Oslo Accords would enhance his standing among Palestinians and boost his chances of signing a peace agreement with Israel.
Kerry and Indyk were quick to buy Abbas's argument, and they exerted heavy pressure on the Israeli government to comply.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and PA President Mahmoud Abbas share a laugh in Ramallah on January 4, 2013. (Image source: U.S. State Dept.) Inset: The "battered and unbowed" U.S. special envoy Martin Indyk. (Image source: Aspen Institute/Flickr)
The Israeli government reluctantly approved the release of some 104 prisoners, including many with "blood on their hands."
During the nine months of the peace talks, Israel released 78 Palestinian prisoners in three stages, in the hope that this would boost the peace process with the Palestinians and enhance Abbas's credibility among his people.
The release of the prisoners is indeed seen as a major achievement for Abbas, who was never even asked to pay anything in return.
When some of Abbas's advisors were asked why they were continuing with the U.S.-sponsored negotiations even though they knew Israel was not going to give them everything they were asking for, they pointed out that the effort was worthwhile even if it only led to the release of veteran prisoners.
In the end, the release of the prisoners brought about neither a peace agreement with Israel nor bolstered Abbas's standing among Palestinians. Moreover, the release of the prisoners does not seem to have increased the number of Palestinians who support the peace process with Israel.
A public opinion poll published last week shows that a majority of Palestinians now oppose a two-state solution and reject permanent acceptance of Israel's existence.
As for Abbas's standing among his people, it has become clear over the past few weeks that the PA president is being denounced as a "traitor" for merely opposing the abduction of three Israeli teenagers. Obviously, Palestinians have forgotten that Abbas managed to secure the release of prisoners incarcerated by Israel more than 20 years ago.
Apparently, Kerry and Indyk were convinced up to the last moment that Abbas would be able or willing to make concessions that were tantamount to signing his own death warrant.
Abbas was clever to pursue the negotiations until the end of the nine-month deadline set by Kerry in the hope that he would get the fourth and final batch of the 104 pre-Oslo prisoners.
Abbas, at the same time, wanted to give Kerry and Indyk a last-minute chance to force Israel to accept all his demands, namely a full withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
When Abbas realized that his scheme was not working, however, he embarked on a series of steps that caught the Obama Administration by surprise.
First, Abbas signed applications for Palestinian membership in 15 international treaties and conventions.
Second, he struck a unity deal with Hamas, which resulted in the establishment of a Palestinian "national consensus" government.
He seems to have gotten away with these two surprise moves, which were seen as severe blow to U.S. efforts to move forward with the peace process.
Abbas appears to be the only player who benefited from the botched U.S.-sponsored peace process. Not only did this peace process get 78 prisoners released, but it also paved the way for Abbas to embark on unilateral moves and wage a diplomatic war against Israel in the international arena.
As if that were not enough, the peace process eventually drove Abbas into the open arms of Hamas: Abbas would rather join forces with Hamas than succumb to U.S. pressure to reach a "treacherous" agreement with Israel.
Kerry and Indyk failed to understand that no Palestinian leader has a mandate to make real concessions to Israel as part of a peace agreement.
Instead, they chose to endorse the false assumption that Abbas would be able to deliver a deal. By doing so, they actually forced Abbas to mislead them into thinking that if only Israel released more prisoners, he would be able to make concessions. The question now is whether Kerry and Indyk will be prepared to admit that they were duped by the Palestinian Authority president. Probably not.