Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The rose-colored glasses of Daniel Kurtzer

The rose-colored glasses of Daniel Kurtzer

Last night, I attended a talk by Daniel Kurtzer, former US ambassador to Israel and an outspoken supporter of a more muscular American Middle East policy.

Kurtzer is a soft-spoken man, and he built up his case that the peace process - ultimately ending with a solution along the rough lines of the Clinton Parameters or the Olmert plan - is the only way forward. One of his major arguments is that both Israelis and Palestinian Arabs support these rough parameters when asked about their support for them in a package.

In other words, he says that while both Israelis and Palestinian Arabs may say to pollsters that they want more hawkish specific policies against the other side, when presented with a comprehensive peace plan ("aggregate") along the rough outline of the Clinton parameters, both sides overwhelmingly agree.

I asked him about the Israel Project poll of 2011 that showed that when Palestinian Arabs were asked more specifically about a two-state solution, they overwhelmingly admitted that they envisioned it as a mere stage towards the takeover of Israel. He answered, disingenuously, that this poll was also non-aggregated. Yet the people who answer that they want a two-state solution are already the ones who are being celebrated as the pragmatists by the likes of Kurtzer, and the slim majority they allegedly represent what he is bringing as proof  that Palestinian Arabs are ready and willing to compromise.

But let's look at the last poll of Palestinian Arabs and see if it fits Kurtzer's theory. According to him, the more radical ones would be represented more prominently in questions about specific policies, and the more pragmatic ones in questions about comprehensive peace plans.

The answers show something quite different.

When asked if they support a two-state solution, 52% said they do. But when asked if they support the Clinton Parameters/Geneva Initiative for a two-state solution, including solutions to the  "refugees," Jerusalem  and so on, only 43% support it. In fact, when asked if they support dividing Jerusalem and allowing Jewish control over only the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, 70% oppose even that compromise.

So Kurtzer is wrong. Arabs do not support a Clinton-style peace plan, and the only possible reason more accept a "two-state solution" over the Clinton plan is what the Israel Project showed - that they regard the two-state solution as a Trojan horse to destroy Israel!

How about the Israelis that Kurtzer says supports the Clinton-type solution? The poll he is probably referring to was one where the specific conditions were those that Palestinian Arabs have found unacceptable. Specifically, the plan it floated to the people being polled included:

Two states: Israel the state of the Jewish people and Palestine the state 
of the Palestinian people.

Palestinian refugees will have a right to return only to the new state of 

The Palestinian state will be demilitarized, without an army.

Borders will be based on the 1967 lines and will include land swaps equal 
in size that will take into consideration Israel's security needs and will 
maintain the large settlement blocks under Israeli sovereignty.

Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem will come under Israeli sovereignty and 
Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty.
Palestinian Arabs have repeatedly and overwhelmingly been against every one of these conditions. 

While Kurtzer tries to paint the results of these polls as proof that there is little daylight between ordinary Israelis and Palestinian Arabs, it doesn't take much research to conclude the exact opposite.

There are other problems with Kurtzer's views. For example, his 2009 book almost completely downplayed the threat of radical Islam, partially blamed Israeli policies for the rise of radical groups and even suggested that Israeli-Palestinian Arab peace would reduce Islamic radicalism, something that the recent events in the Arab world disprove quite handily.

But what does it say when a well-informed former diplomat, and now member of a prominent think-tank, a person who is no idiot, espouses ideas that are so clearly false?

My charitable impression is that as a diplomat, Kurtzer cannot accept the possibility that diplomacy cannot solve the problem. He is a hammer and every problem is therefore a nail.

But wishful thinking must not be a substitute for sober analysis, and this is a trap that too many pundits, journalists, politicians - and former diplomats - fall into, when it comes to Israel.