The former US ambassador to Israel who can’t get basic facts right

Despite having a career dedicated to the Israel-Arab conflict Martin Indyk can’t manage to get even the most basic facts correct.

By Moshe Phillips

Martin Indyk has spent his entire professional life immersed in the Arab-Israeli conflict, holding prominent positions in advocacy groups, think tanks, and the State Department. So how is it that he still can’t get the most basic facts about the conflict right?

In the March-April 2024 issue of Foreign Affairs, Indyk makes the case for why it would be great to have a sovereign Palestinian state as soon as possible. Yet again and again throughout the essay, he makes glaring errors in referring to key aspects of the history and nature of the Arab war against Israel.

For someone who served as ambassador to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State (among other positions), Indyk is either surprisingly ignorant or surprisingly careless about his area of presumed expertise. Either possibility is alarming.

Let’s start with Indyk’s “history” of the idea of creating a Palestinian state. He wants to show that the proposal has deep roots. It’s not just something that he and his State Department friends cooked up last week; it has a tradition. Because, presumably, something with a long history is less scary than something which seems new and radical. He writes: “The two-state solution dates back to at least 1937, when a British commission suggested a partition of the British mandate territory…”

Indyk is off by fifteen years. The two-state solution began in 1922, not 1937. And what happened in 1922 was not just some British proposal—the British actually implemented it. They physically partitioned the Palestine Mandate territory, giving the 78% east of the Jordan River to the Arabs, leaving only 22% on the western side for the Jews.

Too bad the British didn’t just honestly call the eastern part of Palestine “East Palestine.” That would have spared us all a lot of rhetorical confusion over the years. Instead, they chose to call it “Trans-Jordan.” Not because the people living there were ethnically “Trans-Jordanian.”

They were no different from the Arabs living on the western side of the Jordan. They called it “Trans-Jordan” because that means “other side of the Jordan.” The name was geographically convenient. Many years later, the country’s king changed the name to “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” so that his particular tribe’s name would be enshrined as part of the country’s name. It was what we call a land-grab.

Could Indyk really not know how, when and why Jordan was created? Not likely. More likely is that he was being deliberately disingenuous when he skipped 1922 and went straight to 1937.

Another blatant error by Indyk in his Foreign Affairs article concerns the crucial issue of Palestinian Arab refugees. After the UN’s 1947 resolution, he writes, “The ensuing war led to the founding of the state of Israel; millions of Palestinians, meanwhile, became refugees, and their national aspirations languished.”

How many falsehoods can an alleged “expert” pack into one sentence? First, the war of 1948 was not just “an ensuing war,” as if both sides were culpable. It was unprovoked Arab aggression. Israel did not invade any Arab countries; five Arab armies invaded Israel.

Second, “millions” of Palestinian Arabs did not become refugees. Mainstream historians and demographers estimate that about 1.3-million Arabs lived in the Palestinian Mandate in 1947, and between 600,000 and 700,000 of them left their homes to get out of the way of the invading Arab armies. Not “millions.”

Third, their “national aspirations” did not “languish.” Their aspiration was to annihilate Israel, and they acted on it every day. There were constant Palestinian Arab terrorist attacks throughout the 1950s and continuing ever since. In 1964, they established the PLO. They have fought endlessly for their “national aspirations,” that is, to replace Israel with “Palestine”—by murdering Jews.

When Indyk gets to 1967, he does it again. He writes that the Six Day War “placed millions of Palestinians under direct Israeli control.” Wrong again. In 1967, there were about 400,000 Arabs living in Gaza, and another 900,000 living in Judea-Samaria. Not “millions.”

I understand why Indyk inflates the numbers. The larger the number, the worse Israel looks. But changing history to score political points is just wrong.

Martin Indyk wants us to trust him. He wants Israel and world Jewry to believe that based on his vast experience, he knows best how to bring about Middle East peace. But looking at his new Foreign Affairs article, so chock full of bias, exaggerations, and omissions of key historical facts—all to Israel’s detriment—I would say that he has not yet earned the Jewish people’s trust.

Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press.