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Mideast strife ‘is hurting U.S. interests’
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Mideast strife ‘is hurting U.S. interests’

Questions for… Daniel Kurtzer

Princeton professor Daniel Kurtzer said President Obama “can exert influence on everybody. He can work with the Israelis. He can work with the Palestinians. He can work with the Arab world.”
Princeton professor Daniel Kurtzer said President Obama “can exert influence on everybody. He can work with the Israelis. He can work with the Palestinians. He can work with the Arab world.”

As a former American ambassador to Egypt and Israel, and now the S. Daniel Abraham Professor in Middle Eastern Policy at Princeton University, Daniel Kurtzer has amassed many colleagues who are experts on the issues that separate Israel and the Palestinians.

In a new book he has edited, Pathways to Peace, Kurtzer has brought together 16 colleagues — Americans, Israelis, Palestinians, and one Jordanian — in a collection of essays on the peace process.

All address what the United States can do to facilitate a two-state solution.

Kurtzer described the book in a Dec. 13 phone interview with NJ Jewish News.

NJJN: In your essay, you wrote that “the two-state solution is now on life support and cannot survive without U.S. intervention.” Do you believe the Obama administration is willing to become more involved in the peace process?

Daniel Kurtzer: We are trying to get them involved. We hope that the president and his advisers and policy makers would come to grips with the reality that it is hurting American interests, let alone what it is doing to Israelis and Palestinians. Therefore, it is time to get serious. If you took a snapshot today you would see the administration is not doing very much at all, and that is a problem.

NJJN: Why are they not doing more?

Kurtzer: The president has a lot of other priorities — the fiscal cliff and Syria, let alone all of the Middle East, and the experience of his first administration was not very promising. Nothing has gotten better since then. To the extent he asks advisers, “What should I do now?” I am sure the answer is, “This thing is a loser. Why touch it?” In the first few weeks after the election he hasn’t yet chosen a new secretary of state. I haven’t given up hope that when he does, perhaps this will be one of the administration’s priorities.

NJJN: But in today’s climate, with a Netanyahu administration that appears to be moving to the right, sharp divisions among the Palestinians, and real disarray and violence in other parts of the Arab world, does the administration have much leverage?

Kurtzer: This is why we addressed the book to Washington. There are no chapters in the book that say “The Palestinians should do X and the Israelis should do Y.” Everybody was asked to address what Washington should do. The United States should develop a strong enough policy to stimulate action in a situation where that action is going to be very hard to stimulate.

NJJN: Why do you believe the United States should get involved in a more active way?

Kurtzer: The Arabs are looking to us for leadership, and when we don’t show it, their willingness for them to buy into the leadership we are exhibiting on other issues is diminished. It is a fact of life.

NJJN: The Obama administration seemed to be successful with Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi in terms of getting him to broker the ceasefire in Gaza. But Obama has not done so well with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Can he exert a positive influence on both men at this point?

Kurtzer: Yes. As president he can exert influence on everybody. He can work with the Israelis. He can work with the Palestinians. He can work with the Arab world.

NJJN: Any time Obama has exercised his influence on Netanyahu, as with settlement building, parts of the American-Jewish community have given the president a hard time. Would he not get more opposition from them if he tries to put more pressure on Netanyahu?

Kurtzer: Anything Obama tries to do more ambitiously is going to arouse even more upset than he has faced until now. When you ask any prime minister of Israel, whether from the Left or the Right, to freeze settlements, that prime minster is going to ask himself, “Why am I being asked to do something that is extraordinarily hard to do domestically for no gain?” The game here is to instill confidence not in his own people but in the other people. So if you want to see settlements stop, they have to be woven into a larger strategy where a prime minister can say, “Yes, it may be painful for me to do this politically, but maybe I can gain from it.”

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