Veteran Middle East diplomat Martin Indyk resigned Friday as the chief US negotiator between the Israelis and Palestinians in a further sign of the collapse of the peace process.
Less than a year after Secretary of State John Kerry tapped the high-profile envoy to guide a major US push for a peace deal, Indyk quit to return to a senior position at the Brookings Institution think tank.
Kerry hailed Indyk's "indefatigable efforts and creativity" on the peace process, which the top US diplomat insisted was not dead.
"He'll continue to work for peace, and as we've all said many times, the United States remains committed not just to the cause of peace, but to resuming the process when the parties find a path back to serious negotiations," Kerry said in a statement.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said that Kerry and Indyk agreed it was "an appropriate time" for the diplomat to return to Brookings due to the suspension in negotiations.
Indyk, who was born in Britain and raised in Australia, formerly worked for the main pro-Israel lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and took US citizenship in 1993 as he joined the administration of then-president Bill Clinton.
Indyk served twice as US ambassador to Israel -- from 1995-1997 and 2000-2001 -- and played a key role in Clinton's failed efforts to broker a Middle East peace settlement, including at the Camp David summit between then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Kerry put a top priority on reviving Middle East diplomacy and coaxed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas back to the negotiating table last July.
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But in April, Israel made a surprise announcement of plans for 700 new settlements and refused to free a last batch of Palestinian prisoners after earlier releases. Abbas in turn sought Palestinian membership in 15 UN conventions.
Israel voiced anger after an unnamed US official -- widely believed to be Indyk -- was quoted by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper as blaming Israel for the breakdown in talks and saying that Netanyahu "did not move more than an inch."
- No more 'urgency' for peace -
Asked about the controversial remarks attributed to him, Indyk told a forum last month that Israel's settlement announcements in the midst of releasing prisoners had a "dramatically damaging impact on the negotiations."
Indyk, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy he helped found in 1985, complained that the Israelis and Palestinians did not "feel the pressing need to make the gut-wrenching compromises necessary to achieve peace."
"It is safe to say that if we the US are the only party that has a sense of urgency, these negotiations will not succeed," Indyk said.
In a sign of the bleak hopes, Harf, the State Department deputy spokeswoman, said Kerry was not immediately planning to appoint a new permanent Middle East negotiator.
Indyk's acting replacement will be Frank Lowenstein, a longtime aide to Kerry who has served as deputy special envoy.
Lowenstein was an adviser to Kerry on his failed 2004 presidential bid and later worked for him in the Senate. He is the son of Allard Lowenstein, the slain former congressman and civil rights champion.
Amid the peace process at a standstill, violence has ticked up. Israel has staged a vast crackdown on the militant movement Hamas after the abduction of three Israeli teenagers.