Forward from Gaza: How the U.S. Can Lead

Middle East Bulletin interviews former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt Daniel C. Kurtzer about the U.S. role in the Middle East.

Middle East Bulletin interviews former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt Daniel C. Kurtzer about the U.S. role in the Middle East.

Question from Middle East Bulletin: What should Secretary Rice be seeking to accomplish on this trip, as this administration looks toward the horizon and the situation on the ground it hands over to the incoming team in 2009?

Ambassador Kurtzer: The problem right now is that everyone is looking only at tomorrow. There is no long-term thinking or activity taking place. The Israelis and Hamas are engaged in an effort to hurt each other. Hamas finds it in its own very significant interest right now to not only inflict some pain on Israel but to demonstrate that it has the capacity to hit Ashkelon and to withstand Israeli incursions. Israel, not wanting to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas, believes that it must inflict pain on Hamas and some degree of pain on civilians in areas from which Hamas is operating in order to raise the price for Hamas to continue operating.

The one exception to this rule was Prime Minister Olmert’s statement at the cabinet on Sunday in which he said that as Israel continues to operate against Hamas it hopes that negotiations with the Palestinians would continue. But that was soon responded to by President Abbas, who said that he needed to suspend the negotiations because of Palestinian discontent within the West Bank population.

Along comes Secretary Rice with a statement that says she is still optimistic about being able to reach an agreement in 2008. But there’s no there there. There’s no U.S. policy activity. We have nobody on the ground. Our monitor who is supposed to be monitoring behaviors is a good man, he’s a very strong lieutenant general, but he’s only visited the region, I believe, twice. And there still isn’t a strong team on the ground either to do the monitoring or to be encouraging the sides to do the tough negotiating that needs to get done. The secretary of state has traveled often, but these episodic trips of one or two days that see no activity in between them become meaningless because the parties, in a sense, go home after the trip and they go about their business the way they had before.

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