Future of U.S. Mideast Diplomacy
What Might We Expect
from the Obama Administration
By Daniel Kurtzer
|Dr. Daniel Kurtzer, Obama
presidential campaign advisor and former U.S. ambassador to
Israel and Egypt, assesses the Administration's engagement in
the region to date and speculates on possible future directions.
This piece was edited and abridged from a Brit Tzedek conference
call conducted with Dr. Kurtzer on March 11, 2009. For a
transcription and podcast of the call, see: http://btvshalom.org/btvshalom.org/resources/20090311_townhall.shtml|
We all know and appreciate that the Obama Administration has
gotten off to a very quick start with respect to the Middle East
peace process. This Administration, unlike previous ones, did
not wait years to begin working on the peace process in
earnest. In a number of areas, in less than two
months, the Administration has really sped down the highway.
However, it is still very unclear where they're
This uncertainty has raised some questions as to whether or
not we're seeing action for the sake of appearances or whether
there is a concerted strategy.
- We have not yet seen any serious pronouncements with regard
to Israeli settlement activity in spite of the fact that during
the same period, there have been a number of Israeli
announcements of continued settlement expansion.
- We've seen no indication yet whether the Administration is
prepared to express its own views, either in public or in a more
private setting, with respect to final status issues.
- We haven't seen a gameplan yet with respect to the
Syria-Israeli track of negotiations.
- The visits to the region by Senator George Mitchell and
Secretary Hillary Clinton have suggested that the Administration
is still finding its way with respect to a direction of where to
The Administration is trying to play the peace process cards
in the context of other substantial activities in the region.
President Obama indicated that there is a kind of triad of
issues that face the United States in this region, and you've
got to be working on all of these problems simultaneously. The
President wants to accelerate withdrawal from Iraq and that will
have its own challenges; at least of equal, if not of greater
importance, will be the Administration's strategy
vis-à-vis Iran. These problems need to be addressed and
will not depend entirely on the resolution to the Arab-Israeli
The real question though is, does the Administration
have the intention and has it established peace as a priority to
move forward expeditiously?
If the Arab world sees that the United States is engaged,
that the appointment of George Mitchell was not for show but for
serious engagement, it will help us as we do our diplomacy vis a
vis Iraq and Iran. It doesn't guarantee that it will make those
diplomatic efforts more successful. But one guarantee is, that
if we don't engage in Arab-Israeli diplomacy, we will be less
successful in things that we do elsewhere in the
From my experience in the campaign, I am
convinced that the President remains very much
committed to what he said, that the search for peace in
the Middle East is not a favor that we do for the parties, but
rather it's a vital national U.S. interest. If the
President remains committed, then it gives me confidence that
some of the uncertainties in U.S. policy will work themselves
out, and hopefully we'll have a period of active, engaged, and
I also think that the work of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom is
indicative that there is public support for the U.S. to resume
activity, and that's going to be critical for a president who is
otherwise absorbed with a lot of issues.
Aftermath of the War in Gaza
There is a challenging environment on the ground. For
instance, neither side can deliver a knockout punch, there's a
humanitarian crisis, the war raised the question of whether Gaza
is governable, a major gulf developed between the Arab
governments and the Arab "street", and between and among Arab
- There is a need to ensure that the ceasefire holds -- and
it's not holding. Rockets have landed in Israel almost everyday
-- sometimes multiple rocket attacks. There is a question as to
how long Israel's patience will hold. There appears to be, and I
say that with question marks, an effort by Hamas to maintain the
ceasefire, but so far it has been far from perfect.
If there is a ceasefire, however frail, it will not operate
on the basis of its own momentum. It requires monitoring, the
necessity of establishing buffer zones, probably some kind of
international force of observers, international mechanisms for
dealing with arms smuggling and enhanced Egyptian efforts to
stop the usage of the tunnels.
- The largest question is what happens on the ground in Gaza?
Does Hamas resume its very unpopular governance, or do
Palestinian unity attempts now underway succeed in
reestablishing some central government control?
One of the things that the donor community indicated in a
recent international conference to help rebuild Gaza is: How do
they know it's not going to happen again? And is good money
going to be poured after bad money? And who's in charge of the
distribution of this international aid? Many of the donors,
including the U.S., have said that they do not want to funnel
any aid whatsoever through Hamas, and that's why the U.S.'s
contribution or promise of 900 million dollars was largely
skewed towards the Palestinian Authority-ruled West
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance
for Justice and Peace
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Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
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