ZOA Urges President-Elect Obama Not To Appoint Hostile Israel Critic Daniel Kurtzer As Middle East Envoy
December 4, 2008


The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest pro-Israel organization in the United States, has urged President-elect Barack Obama not to appoint hostile Israel critic Daniel Kurtzer as his Middle East envoy which Obama is reportedly considering. As envoy, Kurtzer would report directly to President-elect Obama, rather than to his secretary of state (Akiva Eldar, ‘Obama mulls ex-ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, as special Mideast envoy,’ Haaretz, December 2, 2008).


The ZOA opposes an appointment for Kurtzer because of his long, documented record of hostility to and severe pressure upon Israel during the course of his career, which has included stints as U.S. Ambassador to Egypt (1997-2001) and Israel (2001-5). Over the years, strong criticism and concern has been expressed about Daniel Kurtzer’s statements, polices and actions by an array of Israeli and American Jewish leaders, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, former Israeli prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Benjamin Netanyahu, former Israeli negotiator and ambassador, Itamar Rabinovitch, veteran lobbyist Morris Amitay, and even leading Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot.


Daniel Kurtzer’s troubling statements and record on Israel and the Middle East:


·         His support for the 2002 Arab so-called Peace Initiative: This Initiative, often described as one that offers Israel peace and normal relations with all the Arab states in return for Israel returning to its pre-1967 borders, actually demands Israel’s surrender of strategically vital territory by demanding its full withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 armistice lines, contrary to the language of UN Security Council Resolution 242. It also would involve evicting over 400,000 Jews from these areas, as the unified Arab position is that a Palestinian state must be judenrein. It also demands, on the basis of a non-binding 1948 UN General Assembly Resolution (194) which the Arab states themselves rejected at the time, implementation of the legally baseless so-called ‘right of return’ to Israel for Palestinian Arab refugees and their millions of descendants, at Arab discretion, while Israel would be obliged to compensate those choosing not to return. In other words, Israel would have to agree to its own eventual destruction before the Arab League will recognize it. Additionally this Initiative requires no concessions from, nor does it impose any obligations upon, the Arab parties. Yet, according to the Times [London], “Kurtzer submitted a paper to Obama on the question before [the] presidential elections. He argued that trying to reach bilateral peace agreements between Israel and individual countries in the Middle East, was a recipe for failure as the record of Bill Clinton and George W Bush showed. In contrast, the broader Arab plan ‘had a lot of appeal.'” (Uzi Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter, ‘Barack Obama links Israel peace plan to 1967 borders deal,’ The Times [London], November 16, 2008).


·         Critical of Israeli strikes at Palestinian terrorists:  In August 2001, Kurtzer publicly criticized Israel for striking at Abu Ali Mustafa, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which over the years has murdered at least 14 American citizens and numerous Israelis. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement on August 28, 2001 saying it was “surprised and dismayed” that Kurtzer “felt compelled to raise the issue with Prime Minister Sharon,” yet “We did not hear of any similar actions when American citizens were the victims of terror attacks over the past few months. Indeed, just hours after Kurtzer‘s statement, an American Jew, Ben Dansker, was shot and wounded by Arafat´s terrorists near the town of Rogalit – yet Kurtzer made no statement about the attack.”


·         Criticism of Kurtzer from former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Netanyahu “has said more than once that with Jews like Kurtzer, it is impossible to build a healthy relationship between Israel and the United States” (Haaretz, April 6, 2001).


·         Rebukes Israeli negotiators for being insufficiently concessionary: The Israeli Labor government’s then left-wing ambassador to the U.S., Itamar Rabinovitch, described a “stormy dispute” between Kurtzer and the head of Israel´s negotiating team, in which “Kurtzer thought that Israel was not going far enough with the Palestinians. There were sharp exchanges between them [and Kurtzer] rebuked” the Israeli negotiators (Haaretz, April 6, 2001).


·         Criticism of Kurtzer from former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir: “Kurtzer frequently pressured Israel to make one-sided concessions to the Arabs; he constantly blamed Israel for the absence of Mideast peace, and paid little or no attention to the fact that the Palestinians were carrying out terrorist attacks and openly calling for the destruction of Israel.”


·         Morris Amitay, former executive director of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has said: “Kurtzer … will use his Jewishness as a protective cover for his anti-Israel views” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 29, 2001).


·         Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot editorialized on Kurtzer’s malign influence: “Possibly more than any other U.S. State Department official, Kurtzer has been instrumental in promoting the goals of the Palestinians and in raising their afflictions to the center of the U.S. policymakers’ agenda” (Yediot Ahronot, August 9, 1991).


·         In his 1976 PhD dissertation at Columbia University, Daniel Kurtzer blamed Israeli responses to terrorist strikes for “the radicalization of those Palestinians to violence.” It is deeply troubling that Kurtzer never characterized as “terrorists” those who carried out massacres of civilians. In his thesis, they were called “guerrillas.”


·         Kurtzer‘s poor relations with Jerusalem’s political bureaus reached a new climax” in 1990, when he authored a speech by James Baker strongly criticizing Israel, which was delivered at an AIPAC conference, “causing a commotion among the conference participants … A Jewish community leader told Kurtzer [shortly afterwards], ‘Your children will bear the consequences of the Israeli policy you are encouraging.'”


·         Clashes with Israeli officials: Kurtzer had a “vocal conflict” with an Israeli government official in Philadelphia in the summer of 1990, after Kurtzer “attacked the Israeli government for refusing to include the PLO in the peace process [and] said that this constituted the main obstacle to peace” (Haaretz, April 6, 2001).


·         Public interference in internal Israeli budgetary policy-making: Kurtzer stated, “Instead of taking care of the disabled and or economic development, Israel is investing in Jewish settlements, which should be dismantled” (Washington Times, January 9, 2002).


·         Kurtzer is co-author with Scott Lasensky of a new book, Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East, which praises only the stewardship of President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, who applied ruthless pressure on Israel and held Israeli policies as responsible for obstructing peace. In the book Kurtzer and Lasensky also claim that America falsely labeled Arafat and the Palestinian leadership as responsible for the collapse of the Oslo process, in contradiction of virtually all American officials engaged in the 2000 Camp David and Taba negotiations, including President Clinton and Middle East envoy Dennis Ross.


·         In 1988, Kurtzer, then a State Department advisor, counseled the outgoing Reagan Administration to recognize the PLO after Yasser Arafat made a number of statements that suggested the PLO had accepted Israel and renounced the use of terrorism, something the PLO, Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas have done in English many times since, while continuing to promote incitement to hatred and murder in Arabic. 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, in which he said that “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.”


·         Kurtzer has based his policy of embracing the PLO on words alone, but has refused to confront other, hateful words of the PLO when confronted with them or modify his policy or advice to government. When 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.”

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