WASHINGTON – An Orthodox Jew who was a leading member of former President Clinton’s peace negotiating tream looks set to be appointed ambasador to Israel this week, angering powerful supporters of the Jewish state in the Bush administration.

Daniel Kurtzer, who has kept a kosher kitchen in Cairo as U.S. ambassador to Egypt, is expected to be announced this week as the next U. S. ambassador to Israel. He will be the second Jew to hold that post, following his longtime associate and friend Martin Indyk, who held it twice under Clinton.

Kurtzer’s apointment is a victory for Secretary of State Colin Powell and his director of policy planning Richard Haass.

Powell has sought to maintain continuity as much as possible with the policies of Clinton and the first Bush administration around the world. He has also sought to promote to key policymaking veterans of the U.S. foreign service, which Kurtzer is.

Kurtzer has also worked closely with Haass on promoting the Oslo Peace Process and on advocating continued strong U.S. support of Egypt. He is expected to work closely and well with William Burns, the U.S. ambassador to Jordan whom Powell has chosen to run Middle East policy at the State Deparmtent as head of the Bureau of Near East Affairs.

But Kurtzer’s expected appointment has angered hawkish, strong supporters of Israel in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. He is seen by them as one of the key champions architects of the Oslo Peace Process in the Clinton administration, and as an integral part of the tiny, close-knit team led by former peace envoy Dennis Ross and Indyk who energetically pushed U.S. hands-on paritcipation to further that process.

These figures include Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, his powerful and influential deputy Paul Wolfowtiz and key figures in Congress in leading and shaping Republican attitudes on foreign policy, especially Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Rep Chris Cox in the House of Representatives. Kurtzer’s appointment will have to be confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Helms chairs. Helms is expected to go along with the appointment publicly in order not to defy or anger the new president of his own party. Burt he is not an admirer of Kurtzer.

The distrust of Kurtzer is rooted in his refusal to pressure Egypt over the increasingly blatant anti-Semitism in its government-influenced media.

He himself was often the butt of anti-Semitic caricatures in the Egyptian press over his own strict adherance to Orthodox Jewish practice. Kurtzer has been a Foreign Service Officer, or career diplomat, of the United States for a quarter of a century and has focused on the Israel-Arab peace process. But he has been much more high profile, poltiiczed and cotnroversial than most career service officers.

Seen as a popular and likable team player at the State Department, he was an early, and outspoken adocate of Israeli negotiations with the Palestine Liberaiton Organization.

In 1989, three years before the Oslo Peace Process began, Kurtzer was a major contributer to a then-highly controversial speech by Secretary of State James A. Baker III to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that called on then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and other right wing Israeli leaders, including currrent Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, to abandon the “unrealistic vision of a Greater Israel” that included the West Bank and Gaza.

Kurtzer remains controversial. This month, he angered many congressional Republicans who want to reduce America’s $2 billion a year aid to Egypt by describing the U.S.-Egypt relationship as “rock solid.”

He told the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt in a speech, “Egypt and the United States continue to share fundamental interests in common, and our governments continue to value this as a strategic relationship.”

Republican leaders found the speech particularly infuriating because they were still seething that Egypt had refused to allow the crippled destroyer, USS Cole to sail the short way into the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal after it was the victim of a terrorist attack last year by Islamic suicide bombers in the Yemeni port of Aden.

Kurtzer is expected, if confirmed, to act on behalf of Secretary Powell as a restraining influence and counterweight to the pro-Israel Pentagon hawks.

But so far in Washington, the hawks, backed by Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, have won major policy battles on North Korea, Russia, China and Iraq at Powell’s expense, even though Powell has had a free hand to make key diplomatic appointments, such as Kurtzer’s, in State.

Washington Times — March 27, 2001