Akiva Eldar
December 1, 2008 - 8:00pm

President-elect Barack Obama is considering the appointment of Daniel Kurtzer, former American Ambassador to Egypt (1997-2001) and Israel (2001-2005), to become his administration's presidential envoy to the Middle East, a senior Israeli diplomatic source said this week.

Obama's decision to appoint a special envoy reporting to him directly, rather than to the secretary of state, indicates that the president-elect attaches special importance to the regional peace process. Reportedly, several of Obama's advisers recommended the appointment.

The special envoy job could infringe on the prestige of Hillary Clinton, who was appointed secretary of state on Monday. On the other hand, it could ease any apparent conflict because of Bill Clinton's close ties with the Gulf States.

Kurtzer, 59, joined Obama's primary and presidential campaigns as a senior member of the president-elect's foreign advisers. He also helped prepare Obama's visit to the region and was among the main writers of Obama's address on the Middle East to AIPAC in June 2008, which was seen as one the candidate's most important speeches on international affairs.

Kurtzer refused to be interviewed on Monday.

An observant, Hebrew-speaking Jew, Kurtzer has filled several positions on the State Department's Middle East desk and was on the Clinton administration's peace team, headed by Dennis Ross.

In the mid-1980s Kurtzer served as political adviser in the United States' embassy in Tel Aviv. At the end of the '90s Clinton appointed him U.S. ambassador in Egypt and in 2001 President Bush appointed him ambassador to Israel. He held the post until 2005.

In an interview with Haaretz at the end of his term, Kurtzer said he believed that the Arab world was gradually moving toward coming to terms with Israel and that terrorists are "on the losing side of history."

Asked whether the road map would be implemented and the Palestinian state be established in the near future, as President George W. Bush promised, he said "the diplomatic infrastructure exists but the implementation depends on the sides fulfilling their obligations."

During his term in Israel, Kurtzer constantly protested against the settlements and the separation fence route. Consequently, his relations with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon were quite cool.

In a lecture in Tel Aviv in July 2002 Kurtzer said that the question where the U.S., Israel and the Palestinians were heading reminded him of a quote by the legendary baseball player Yogi Berra, whose sayings are considered a national asset in America - "You have to be careful if you don't know where you're going because you might not get there."


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