U.S. is critical to Mideast peace process, Kurtzer says

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video iconThe role of the United States as an active third-party mediator is critical to the future of the beleaguered Middle East peace process, former U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer told the campus community Tuesday during a lecture in Golden Auditorium.

“The degree to which the U.S. assigns priority to the issue is very important,” said Kurtzer, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt.

As he described the litany of failures and successes of the peace process during the decades, Kurtzer juxtaposed the engagement of U.S. presidents.

While there was an absence of presidential involvement in the process since the 1990s, he said, President Barack Obama has raised the importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“By appointing a special negotiator to the Middle East on day two of his administration, Obama manifests an understanding of the problems of this region and laid the ground work to the significance of the process.”

kurtzer.jpgKurtzer, now a professor at Princeton University, was instrumental in formulating and executing U.S. policy toward the Middle East in the 1990s and 2000s.

The timing of Kurtzer’s visit provided students with a unique perspective of the current headlines from the region.

“You couldn’t have picked a better time to have this conversation,” he told the audience.

In recent weeks, the United States has brokered direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel’s refusal to extend a moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank has put the process at risk, with Palestinians threatening to walk away from the talks.

Along with presidential commitment, Kurtzer believes third-party monitoring by America, which was nonexistent in the ’90s, is a critical component to the peace process.

“Someone has to be a jury, a judge for the fulfillment of the commitments of the parties. If the parties themselves are negotiating out of a conflict, it is unreasonable to assume they can monitor their own performance.”

One student asked Kurtzer if the United States could be a viable mediator when there is a perception that American leaders are more concerned with the interests of Israel than those of Arabs.

As part of his research for the book Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace, Kurtzer and his co-author investigated the issue of perceived bias.

“We heard almost no one in the Arab world say they will only work with the U.S. if it is bipartisan,” Kurtzer said.

“The answer we got from our Arab interviewees was that they know the U.S. has a special relationship with the state of Israel and what they want the U.S. to do is use that relationship to help Israel make tough decisions.”