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Kurtzer: Settlement Halt ‘Not Dependent On Reciprocity’

By Matt Duss  

"Kurtzer: Settlement Halt ‘Not Dependent On Reciprocity’"

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Repeating the “settlement freeze means no babies!” canard in his column today, Charles Krauthammer adds his voice to the chorus of conservatives who have never said a bad word about the tight Israeli restrictions on growth in Palestinian neighborhoods, but who think that holding Israel to its commitments on settlements is an outrageous injustice:

Obama says he came to Cairo to tell the truth. But he uttered not a word of that. Instead, among all the bromides and lofty sentiments, he issued but one concrete declaration of new American policy: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” thus reinforcing the myth that Palestinian misery and statelessness are the fault of Israel and the settlements.

Blaming Israel and picking a fight over “natural growth” may curry favor with the Muslim “street.” But it will only induce the Arab states to do like Abbas: sit and wait for America to deliver Israel on a platter. Which makes the Obama strategy not just dishonorable but self-defeating.

So let’s get this straight: The President of the United States went to Cairo, condemned anti-Semitism, called Holocaust denial “ignorant,” told Arabs to stop demagoguing the Palestinian issue, and quoted from the Talmud, but Krauthammer insists he “uttered not a word” of the truth. Okay.

Meanwhile, for those who prefer their discussions of this issue a bit saner, ThinkProgress recently sat down for an interview with Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, to discuss the Obama administration’s initial foray into the Middle East peace process. Kurtzer said that he thought the administration had “gotten off to a terrific start, because the president, number one, made it clear that the peace process is a presidential priority.”

I asked Kurtzer about the apparent tension between President Obama and P.M. Netanyahu over the issue of settlement contruction — the Obama administration has requested a complete freeze, without exceptions, something which Netanyahu has called “unreasonable.” Kurtzer said that “as part of his establishing [the Israeli-Arab peace process] as a presidential priority, the president is talking about the need to deal honestly with issues that have not previously been dealt with as honestly they might have, and on the Israeli side settlements is the most pronounced of those issues.”

Every administration since 1967 has said to Israel not to build settlements and very few have done anything about it. And so the president is saying to Israel this is not dependent on Arab behavior, this is not dependent on reciprocity, it’s not dependent on anything else except Israeli action and therefore things have to change. I think one can be confident that the president will say the same things on the Arab side, on issues related to their behavior: violence, recognition of Israel, and other kinds of issues that have stalled progress towards reconciliation. But for an administration that’s only four months old, there’s been a lot of very serious work and some very important markers laid down.

Watch it:


I also asked Amb. Kurtzer about some of the difficulties Mr. Netanyahu might face in regard to his own governing coalition, which includes a number of hardline right-wing parties unsympathetic to Palestinian claims and unwilling to relinquish control of Palestinian lands. Kurtzer responded that “Very often in the past, we have been too deferential to the political constraints or problems that leaders have,” but Obama is “a president who says to leaders: ‘Look you got to where you are, you have to figure out how to stay where you are, but we also have policy interests. And you have to deal with those policy interests.’”

Now, Mr. Netanyahu in this case has options. He can say to the president “No I’m not going to do what you want.” And then of course there will be ongoing tension between the two countries, but this does not suggest — and I would argue very strongly against those who make the argument — this does not suggest that there is somehow an intention to bring Netanyahu down. The president actually gets along with Netanyahu. They met a few times before Obama became president and there is mutual respect there. So no, I think this is a serious policy matter. And Obama is going to leave it to Netanyahu to deal with the politics in Israel.

Full transcript:

KURTZER: I think generally the Obama Administration has gotten off to a terrific start because the President, number one, has made it clear that the peace process is a presidential priority. And not only has he done that rhetorically, but through the appointment of George Mitchell, his own involvement in telephone calls with leaders, interviews, and now, of course, the speech in Cairo. As part of his establishing this as a presidential priority, the president is talking about the need to deal honestly with issues that have not previously been dealt with as honestly they might have. And on the Israeli side settlements is the most pronounced of those issues.

Every administration since 1967 has said to Israel not to build settlements and very few have done anything about it. And so the president is saying to Israel this is not dependent on Arab behavior, this is not dependent on reciprocity, it’s not dependent on anything else except Israeli action and therefore things have to change. I think one can be confident that the president will say the same things on the Arab side, on issues related to their behavior: violence, recognition of Israel, and other kinds of issues that have stalled progress towards reconciliation. But for an administration that’s only four months old, there’s been a lot of very serious work and some very important markers laid down. [...]

The other lesson that the president seems to have absorbed is that one needs to be cognizant of the politics in the region but one can’t play, manipulate, determine the politics of the region. Very often in the past we have been too deferential to the political constraints or problems that leaders have. This is a president who says to leaders: “Look you got to where you are, you have to figure out how to stay where you are, but we also have policy interests. And you have to deal with those policy interests.”

Now, Mr. Netanyahu in this case has options. He can say to the president “No I’m not going to do what you want.” And then of course there will be ongoing tension between the two countries, but this does not suggest — and I would argue very strongly against those who make the argument — this does not suggest that there is somehow an intention to bring Netanyahu down. The president actually gets along with Netanyahu. They met a few times before Obama became president and there is mutual respect there. So no, I think this is a serious policy matter. And Obama is going to leave it to Netanyahu to deal with the politics in Israel.

Update

Middle East Bulletin conducted an interview with Kurtzer. Read the full transcript here.

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