The man the Bush administration is seriously eyeing for the post of U.S. ambassador to Israel is not only the architect of President Clinton’s failed Middle East peace initiative, he is also the brains behind earlier failed peace efforts by Bush’s father.
Daniel Kurtzer, now serving as U.S. ambassador to Egypt, was the key figure in the process of formulating the U.S. decision to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization and Yasser Arafat as the legitimate and sole representatives of the Palestinian people.
During a period of intense terrorism against Israel in 1988, it was Kurtzer, as an official in the State Department, who argued that the U.S. must reach out to the PLO, which he characterized as moving in a “moderate” direction.
That critical change in U.S. policy not only ended in disaster in 1990, when the first Bush administration broke off dealings with Arafat because of continued terrorist activity, it also set the stage for failed efforts during the Clinton administration to hand over much of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, to the Palestinian Authority.
Though he is an Orthodox Jew, Kurtzer has a long-standing antipathy toward Israel. In his 1976 Ph.D. dissertation at Columbia University, Kurtzer blamed Israeli responses to terrorist strikes for “the radicalization of those Palestinians to violence.” Interestingly, Kurtzer never characterized as “terrorists” those who carried out massacres of civilians. In his thesis, they were called “guerrillas.”
Kurtzer, perhaps more than any other diplomatic policymaker of the last 12 years, is responsible for the new U.S. “even-handedness” in Middle East affairs. To Kurtzer, there are no aggressors in the Middle East and no victims. The two sides are equally to blame for the conflict.
Further, he accepts a false premise — that the Palestinian problem is the core of the conflict in the Middle East, rather than a much-manipulated symbol to ensure Israelis are forever perceived as aggressors and the Arabs as aggrieved.
Kurtzer was the principal author of one of the most important statements of U.S. policy in the Middle East, a speech by Secretary of State George Shultz to a conference at the Wye Plantation in Maryland in 1988: “The legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including political rights” must be recognized and addressed, said Shultz. “Palestinian participation is required at every stage of the negotiations.”
That’s the box in which Israel has been forced to operate ever since.
Probably more than any other State Department official, Kurtzer has been instrumental in promoting the goals of the Palestinians and in raising their grievances to the center of the U.S. policymaking agenda. It was Kurtzer who, as a speechwriter for former Secretary of State James Baker, coined the term “land for peace.”
Kurtzer has never been a popular figure in Israel. Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir referred to Kurtzer and two colleagues as “Baker’s little Jews.” Though, today, officials in Jerusalem are being careful about making any comments that might be perceived as interference in U.S. foreign policy decisions.
Once confronted in a synagogue by a man armed with harsh rhetoric by PLO officials in stark contrast to their public commitment to peace, Kurtzer responded, “The United States can’t and will not base its peace process policy on public statements made by either side. We don’t support statements by either side that are excessive. We don’t support public statements by either side that are designed not to advance the peace process, and we don’t react to those kinds of public statements.”
Interesting. Because it was a public statement alone by Yasser Arafat repudiating terrorism that won him a place at the bargaining table — word and words alone.
And the point man in bringing Arafat to the table — as far back as 13 years ago — was Daniel Kurtzer.
This is not a man who should be rewarded for his good work and great results with the plum assignment of ambassador to Israel. No way. If the Bush administration does decide to choose Kurtzer, it will be making a big mistake. He will not be well-received. He will not be a goodwill ambassador.
Kurtzer is smart. He has diplomatic skills. He is multi-lingual and well-educated. But his track record in charting the course to peace in the Middle East is nothing short of disastrous.
It’s time for a change. It’s not time to repeat the mistakes of the past three administrations.