Last updateWed, 26 Feb 2020 2pm


Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer Visits University

kurtzerFormer United States Ambas­sador David Kurtzer paid a visit to the University on March 5 in Wilson Auditorium to discuss political situations in the Middle East and his experiences as a United States Ambassador. The event was attended by approxi­mately 50 people including com­munity members and students.

Kurtzer served as United States Ambassdor to Egypt from 1997 to 2001 then served as the ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005 before becoming a pro­fessor at Princeton University and co-authoring the book, “Ne­gotiating Arab Peace.”

Before Kurtzer spoke, Presi­dent Paul Gaffney II was given the Jewish Heritage Award for his significant contributions to Jewish culture and life. Gaffney said, “I was honored. We started the program and received outside funding for it because there are several Jewish communities in our neighborhood. We took the initiative to be good neighbors.”

The event started with open­ing comments from Professor Amy Handlin, associate profes­sor of marketing and interna­tional business who also works with the Jewish Cultural Studies program.

A theme throughout the event was how Arabs and Jewish peo­ple could co-exist in the Middle East. Kurtzer believes it is up to the United States to help in di­plomacy but that everyone needs to be willing to work together.

Kurtzer did criticize the Unit­ed States for their lack of incen­tives recently. “U.S. has been an instrumental player in doing the hard work to bring Arabs and Is­raelis together but somehow has lost the capacity or will to have the diplomacy that will bring this peace,” said Kurtzer.

However, as Kurtzer con­tinued, he did explain that the United States may be “tired.” He said, “Political Islam is now in charge. The ideology that is very different in a region where not just the U.S. is tired, but all outside players are tired. Hun­dreds of thousands of soldiers, countless billions of dollars have been spent on the Middle East.”

The ambassador also recom­mended that the United States focus on other areas of the world. He also suggested that the US should pivot away from the region and not invest the diplomatic resources.

Kurtzer said that there are reasons that the United States is still involved in the Middle East, some that the public does not know about. “We cannot sustain another failure, but by not trying, the situation would not freeze in time. If you’re not constant­ly operating on it then it is always changing for the worst.”

Another topic addressed by the ambassador was the Israeli Palestin­ian conflict over land in the Middle East. “The narratives of Israelis and Palestine’s mirror each other – injus­tice, exile, etc. both has suffered the same – classic mutually hurting stale mate.”

According to Kurtzer, in 2008 there were negotiations to settle ten­sions between Palestine and Israel in which the United States was involed in broking the deal. However, the negotiations fell through once it was made public and the Obama adminis­tration has not picked up the negotia­tions since he took office.

Kurzter claimed that in order to have peace in the Middle East, three criteria must be set: Urgency, De­mography and Democracy, and a Pathway to Peace.

In discussing urgency, Kurzter said, “Israel has not suffered a single death due to an act of terror so to them, the need for negotiations with Palestine is not an immediate prob­lem.”

Demography and democracy are two areas in which Kurzter dis­cussed Israel in detail. Israel has a large population of land in which non-citizens live and cannot vote. Kurzter believes this will end in the next 15 years while some scholars believe it won’t end until 2040 or 2050. Kurzter said that equal voting should be provided to all and Israel should look to remove “Jewish state” title.

Pathway to peace, Kurzter be­lieves, is a job for the United States. “You cannot leave it up to the parties to bridge their differences. It is not our conflict but it is in our national self-interest to fix these issues and we cannot rely on these parties to fix these issues. It’s time for the U.S. to get serious and develop a policy strategy that will lead a serious pro­cess of peace making,” said Kurzter.

Following his discussion, Krutzer took questions from the audience. One University student, Alexandria Fitzgerald, a senior communication major asked the question, “If U.S. is fatigued, wouldn’t we seem weak to the rest of the world?”

Kurzter responded that the Unit­ed States does look weak. “They [The Middle East] believe we are weak when we don’t act in their peace process,” said Kurzter.

Fitzgerald said that getting to ask the Ambassador a question was an honor. “I definitely felt a sense of pride and accomplishment be­ing able to apply what I learned in class, into the seminar.”

Aside from being able to ask a question of the Ambassador, Fitzgerald took a lot away from the event. “Overall, I was able to take away a better understanding of the United States’ presence in Middle Eastern foreign affairs, especially in the peace-making process, and how imperative it is for our leaders to use their influence to their ad­vantage,” said Fitzgerald.

Gaffney was impressed by Kurz­ter. “I knew he was accomplished but I was very impressed by the depth of his knowledge. He spoke un-haltingly for 40 minutes about a very complicated issue without one note,” said Gaffney.

Fitzgerald was also impressed. “I thought the ambassador’s presen­tation was so informative and was presented in such a unique style. His lecture spoke about some ex­tremely deep issues but he effec­tively organized them in a way for the audience to follow along,” said Fitzgerald.

Dr. Saliba Sarsar, Associate Vice President for Jewish Cultural Stud­ies Initiatives, said that he enjoyed Kurzter’s presentation for its well-balanced approach.

“I was impressed by his candor, depth of knowledge, and empathy with both Israelis and Palestinians. The approach he followed and the sentiment he expressed in his lec­ture are most needed for advancing the peace process,” said Sarsar.

Sarsar believed that Kurzter of­fered a chance for the University and surrounding community to in­teract.

“Bringing Ambassador Kurzter to campus makes possible the in­teraction of our students, faculty, administration, and staff with pub­lic servants and public intellectuals and such events enables the campus community to interact with attend­ees from outside the University,” said Sarsar.

Gaffney said that students should take away a sense of awareness. “I think students should be gener­ally aware of major global issues – maybe not expert on any particu­lar issue, but generally know what the big and lingering issues are and understand that U.S. positions on those issues are important to the rest of the world.”

Sarsar recommends that all in­terested in global events attend the Global Understanding Convention on April 8-12 on the University campus.

PHOTO TAKEN by Christopher Orlando

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