Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dan Kurtzer May Become Obama’s Special Envoy to the Middle East

Finally, after a string of appointments that have not made me particularly happy, Obama is poised to appoint Dan Kurtzer as Special Envoy to the Middle East. See here. Already he is being attacked in some of the rightwing Jew blogs as "anti-Israel" (Boy, isn't that a case of the pot calling the kettle black.)

I have no idea whether the Obama people were influenced by the campaign against Dennis Ross by some of the progressive blogs like justforeignpolicy , Phil Weiss, Ira Glunts, Richard Silverstein, and by Michael Flynn in the Electronic Intifada (Oy, one can only pray for such influence). It is more likely that Ross is being "kicked upstairs". As was pointed out to me after the Obama election, it would be harder to find a job for Ross than for Kurtzer, since Ross had "been there, done that" as the Middle East envoy. Perhaps Secretary of State Clinton will have a position for him.

Ross is no doubt still in the picture. You didn't want him in Israel-Palestine; you may be getting him in Iran (or Russia). Yet, I am less concerned that his voice will be a dominant one, as it was during the 90s

In terms of basic worldview, Kurtzer is not too different from Dennis Ross. He is a liberal Zionist. But Kurtzer, who served as US ambassador in Egypt and Israel, understands, and sympathizes with the suffering and aspirations of the Palestinians. And he is more likely to wield a certain amount of some pressure on Israel, especially on Netanyahu, than would Ross.

And do you know what else distinguishes Kurtzer from Ross? Kurtzer is a modern orthodox Jew, and Ross is not religiously observant, to the best of my knowledge. So what? You would think that this wouldmake him more fanatically pro-Israel. But not necessarily. For secular Jews like Dennis Ross, Israel is a vital component of their Jewish identity. That is why so many American Jews can view anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism – when your Judaism boils down to an ethnic identity in which Israel plays a big part, you are less likely to take a more detached view. Kurtzer is not a religious Zionist, at least not in the sense that typifies most religious Zionists today. And since his Judaism is not tied up with his Zionism, it is easier for him to keep a certain distance.

Of course, if you oppose a two-state solution as impractical or unjust, the appointment of Kurtzer will only prolong the myth. But if Haaretz is getting it right, this is good news for the Jews, and good news for the Palestinians.

As another Jeremiah could have said, we all still need the hutzpah of hope.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

This should not be celebrated. Kurtzer is just another Israel firster." I noticed that in Haaretz they describe him as an "observant Hebrew-speaking Jew." Why not "an observant Arabic-speaking Muslim" or some such?

richards1052 said...

I think you attribute too much influence to us, but hey--from your mouth to God's ears. I hope someone fr. Obama's team does read a few of us once in a while. They might learn something.

I just hope Ross doesn't do even greater damage on Iran than he would've on I-P.

Y. Ben-David said...

Why are you happy about Kurtzer? He is part of the same "peace process" gang that has been around for 20 years now and the results of their policies are a disaster, you have admitted that yourself. This group says "if we just press enough, particularly on Israel, we can reach the agreement 'whose terms are well-known to everybody'".
Since, in reality, there is no chance of reaching an agreement, I thought that Obama's people would move in the direction that Gen. Jones is pushing...unilateral Israeli withdrawal and replacement of the IDF with foreign troops. Recall Olmert and Kadima supported a large-scale unilateral withdrawal. Netanyahu is putting together a team that will carry one out if he wins (Meridon, Dayan, Hefetz, plus all the empty-headed 'celebrities' he is bringing in like a famous basketball player). So, again, I don't see why you thing appointing Kurtzer will mean any change, when unilateral imposition of American/NATO force seems to be the only option left.

Just as Sharon and his people said to their right-wing supporters "we are giving up Gush Katif in order to save Judea/Samaria" and then they immediately turned around after Gush Katif was destroyed and said, "no, we didn't mean it", Netanyahu can sell this plan as "we are giving up Judea/Samaria to save Jerusalem" and then he gave divide Jerusalem by saying "we are giving up Jerusalem in order to prevent the Palestinian "right of return", and then he gave accept that by saying "would you rather have the Left in power".

As you yourself have said, Bibi and the Likud will carry out the policies you want, but only if there is a change from Washington, which the Kurtzer, Clinton, etc appointments don't seem to signal.

Jerry Haber said...

Anonymous, as they say in yeshivah, "Een hakhi nami" ("Yes, this too!" "You are obviously right"), but the odds of real balance in US foreign policy are nil. Kurtzer is better than Ross.

Y. Ben-David, if you remember my post about "Baker's Jew Boys," you will recall that Kurtzer was in effect cut out of the Peace Process by Ross. Kurtzer's book shows where he thinks the Peace Process went wrong. In a word, too much slack cut to Israel, too little US involvement, too little balanced perspective. Again, Kurtzer's notion of that is not mine, to be sure. And, yes, he is a believer in the Peace Process.

The real question is that when the "process" fails, as it always does, will there be any consequences. The last time the heat was on was under Jim Baker. No, Hillary is no Baker. But I think we can see a little more heat than we saw under Bill and W.

As for unilateral disengagement, I don't think you will see an inch. That's over and done with. The only person I could think of doing some disengagement is lying in a coma.

But who knows?

Anonymous said...

I would appreciate someone explaining to me just how shuffling the personalities involved is going to radically change the substantive situation. I may be wrong but to me but it's akin to believing that if only we find those individuals whose initials spell out some secret code then an agreement will somehow magically appear that everyone will honor.

Despite having the legal, moral and civic authority of its own Supreme Court however the Israeli gov't and indeed Israeli society is right now in a state of near paralysis over merely trying to evict a few settlers from one single house. So how in the world does anyone expect it to have the will much less the ability to do so with the hundreds of thousands of houses that would be required to be evacuated/abandoned/ or etc. in any reasonable peace deal? And this doesn't even mention the questions of Jerusalem or the Right of Return.

No matter who they are any Israelis who agree to or favor any substantial withdrawal/evacuation/abandonment of the occupied territories will ultimately have to back down given that their position will effectively be one of advocating civil war between jews merely so as to return land to the arabs. And no matter how anti-settlement/pro-agreement they were, any U.S. President at the time would face incredible pressure to excuse Israel from doing anything that might inflame that civil war.

The Palestinians will then erupt, either all at once or chronically or both, there will be more war(s) with Hizbullah and more invasion(s) and occupation(s) of Lebanon, things will drag on horrifically yet aimlessly with ever more settlements appearing and the existing ones expanding, and the only solution that will then appear for Israel will be the effective ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and Jerusalem which it will carry out one way or another.

That seems to me to have been the trajectory ever since '67, and I don't understand how changing the names of the players is going to make a dime's worth of difference. The only big drama forseeable to me is whether in the coming war(s) Iran is going to get involved in a big way which could change things very significantly.

So could someone please tell me why the situation is so different that a deal that everyone can live with is indeed within reach if only we have the right names at the table?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Haber, what changed between the time of your post immediately after the election in which you put Kurtzer in the "Who's Really Out" of Obama's team category and now when he is being considered for the special envoy role?

Jerry Haber said...

Last Anonymous, read my post more carefully. I didn't put Kurtzer in the "Who's Really Out" category; I only mentioned him there as a contrast to the Palestinians; he is clearly in the "Who's In" category. I was one of the first bloggers to report on Kurtzer's role in the Obama campaign. OK, so I didn't say that he may be Special Envoy to the Middle East, but the Haaertz story may not pan out, either. Time will tell.

Jerry Haber said...

Penultimate Anonymous, your call for "somebody to explain to you what substantive difference a change in personalities will make," appears in the wrong blog. I have argued continually that there is no hope for any peace process on the grand scale because of the imbalance of power. But personalities do matter on the smaller scale. In light of the ongoing injustice, and the inability to resolve it because of the power imbalance, there remains the challenge of alleviating suffering in the short term. It may well be that Israel will be able to strangle Gaza for decades; but that does not mean that every day for the next decade Gaza will be strangled. American can and has restrained Israel on occasion -- not enough to make a permanent difference -- but enough to relieve the pressure. Even "moral victories" are appreciated.

I, for one, appreciate Jimmy Carter, even though he has no political power. Does he affect events in the Middle East. Only in the long run, and only indirectly. But that is something.

Anonymous said...

Kurtzer is the man