On Sept. 17, the Israel Policy Forum hosted Daniel Kurtzer at the Manhattan JCC. Now at Princeton after a career with the State Department, including as US ambassador to Egypt and then to Israel, Kurtzer gained notoriety as a religious Jew serving in an Arab country. He’s also been subjected to attack in the past year for advising the Obama campaign and the new administration with his allegedly “leftist” or very dovish views regarding Israel.
So I was surprised to find that day that his views were only moderately dovish, and not at all “leftist.” I’ve already recounted his pronounced disagreement with the charges leveled at Israel in the Goldstone Report.
He happens to be a very articulate, fluid and well-informed speaker, but his views are not exceptional. For example, he very much believes in a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians and does not think that a solution can be imposed from the outside. He also says that the US should not be one-sided and that it should be more pro-active and creative than in the past in helping the two sides reach an agreement. He sees it as a good sign that Pres. Obama is pressing now, unlike both his recent predecessors, and not waiting for his final year in office to make a big push.
Behavior on the ground must change, he says, which means both that Israeli settlements must stop and that the Palestinians must come to grips with terrorism. Kurtzer praises the work of US General Dayton in rebuilding Palestinian security forces and says that in May, it was very significant that PA forces were willing to take casualties in violently suppressing a terrorist element in the town of Kalkilya.
When he left his post as ambassador to Israel in Sept. 2005, Kurtzer says that the Bush administration was pushing for Palestinian candidates to qualify for the planned parliamentary elections by endorsing a platform for peace. (This would have been consistent with the Oslo Accords which still provided a legal framework for the Palestinian Authority; Oslo required that Palestinian officials endorse peace with Israel.) But afterwards, the Bush administration dropped such a requirement, which allowed Hamas candidates to run and take office without pledging themselves to peaceful coexistence. Kurtzer agrees with Yossi Beilin that this latter step by the Bush administration was a terrible mistake.
Kurtzer went on to say that he does not believe in “confidence building measures” and that he is “an unabashed hardliner on Hamas.” He doesn’t think that Hamas can be tamed by backchannel diplomacy. But on the positive side, he sees the Saudi/Arab League peace initiative (originally launched in 2002) as being of enormous significance, because it publicly offers Israel peace with the entire Arab world.
Whether he’s right or wrong in all of these particulars, he is hardly a bomb-throwing radical. The hysteria that we heard from the (Jewish) right in the notion that this “dangerous,” guy had Obama’s ear is totally out of place.
This reminds me of similar concerns we heard from the far left about Rahm Emanuel– someone with clear Israeli roots and attachments (and a father who once belonged to the right-wing Irgun underground, to boot) — when he became Obama’s chief of staff. They were sure Emanuel was going to act as if he were a Mossad agent inside the White House. In more recent months, with the White House pressuring Netanyahu’s government to commit to a complete freeze in settlement expansion, the extreme right has been screaming about how this guy, Emanuel, is actually a “self-hating Jew.”
I’m sure that it’s too much to ask that extreme firebrands on either side of the spectrum actually monitor how their earlier assessments of people they were so upset about, have actually checked out.