Daniel Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel and an adviser to Barack Obama, believes Middle East peace talks will succeed if Obama and Tzipi Livni become heads of state.
October 23, 2008
Obama adviser Daniel Kurtzer said peace talks have a good chance of succeeding if his candidate becomes president and Tzipi Livni becomes prime minister of Israel.
The Princeton professor, who served President George W. Bush as ambassador to Israel, spoke in an Oct. 17 conference call with reporters from Jewish newspapers.
(The call was scheduled as both campaigns continued to press hard for the Jewish vote. The Los Angeles Times reported that Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign sent its number two Jewish outreach official, Eric Lynn, to Florida for the remaining week of the campaign. Sen. John McCain, meanwhile, held a conference call with Jewish leaders on Sunday morning, Oct. 19. See related JTA story, McCain defends Palin, Jerusalem in phone call.)
Kurtzer said that “most Israelis remain optimistic” that Livni, newly elected head of the Kadima Party, will be able to form a “relatively stable Israeli political grouping that has already committed itself to policies Sen. Obama has been advancing” — including “active involvement” in peace negotiations with Palestinians and direct talks with the Syrian government.
Labeling as “good news” the indirect talks between Israel and Syria through Turkish mediators, Kurtzer said it was “very unclear whether any substantive progress has been made. Both sides may be in a bit of a holding pattern to see how things develop. But we know that Syria is very anxious for the United States to become re-engaged in the Syrian-Israeli talks.”
Kurtzer said Obama favors “engagement with Iran as one of the diplomatic tools to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Working with a strong Israeli coalition would give us both leverage and support as we pursue that goal.”
But the former ambassador added that Obama would find it “unacceptable for Iran to acquire nuclear capabilities — not only because it threatens our friend Israel but because it is a national security threat to us and all of our interests in that region.”
He said Obama “does not want to spend four to eight years” dealing with a nuclear arms race among nations in the Middle East.
“Diplomacy can do a great deal in finding more about one’s adversary, building up coalitions among friends — particularly when we are looking to build up sanctions,” Kurtzer said. “We have not tried diplomacy at all. There has been this steadfast refusal to talk to the Iranians about the issues most important to us. It would be easy if we only talked to our friends, but you use diplomacy to influence and try to prevail over enemies as well.”
‘This guy’s nuts’
Even as he declared that comments made by outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the necessity for peace talks and surrendering occupied territories “certainly woke up the Israeli system,” Kurtzer said Obama has taken no position on “the specific endgame of what territorial issues should emerge.”
“Frankly, it would be inappropriate for a presidential candidate to do so,” he said, calling it “best for the Israelis to debate among themselves.”
Before Kurtzer joined the conference call, Lynn took pains to disassociate his candidate from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who recently denied a story in The New York Post quoting Jackson as saying that “decades of putting Israel’s interests first” would end in an Obama administration.
Jackson, said Lynn, “is not an adviser to the Obama campaign and is in no position to share Barack Obama’s views on foreign policy toward Israel.”
“Barack Obama is committed to a strong U.S. relationship with Israel,” said Lynn.
As the half-hour call reached its end, Kurtzer added his own view.
“When I saw the statement from the Rev. Jackson, I thought, ‘This guy’s nuts.’ This doesn’t represent Sen. Obama’s thinking or his attitude or anything about him,” he told reporters. “Sen. Obama has been absolutely clear throughout his years in public life that the relationship he has with Israel is not functional. It comes deeply felt in his heart and his being.”