Over the past two and a half years Dennis Ross, Middle East adviser to the U.S. president, has been one of the most central people in the White House in everything that has to do with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He has whispered in the ear of U.S. President Barack Obama, maintained a secret and direct channel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his envoy Isaac Molho, and undermined U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell.
Despite his central role, his influence on Jerusalem's actions was minimal. Despite the fact that he is considered to be Netanyahu's man in the White House, he did not manage to get almost anything from the Israeli prime minister. In Ramallah, his status is even worse. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pushed him aside and effectively declared him a persona non grata. As far as Washington was concerned, he had a far greater impact: mainly a negative one.
Ross has been involved in the peace process for 20 years. He knows all the tricks of all the players and vice versa: they know all his formulas and political maneuvers. It was precisely for this reason that I was surprised to read the article Ross published in the Washington Post on Saturday.
Under the title, "How to break a Middle East Stalemate", Ross writes that, "psychological gaps" between the sides will prevent the achievement of a permanent arrangement in the short term. Therefore, Ross suggests a different path: for Israel to carry out a series of steps in the West Bank to strengthen the Palestinian leaders, Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Ross presents various measures: stopping IDF forces from entering Palestinian cities, expanding the responsibilities of the Palestinian police in Area B of the West Bank, where they currently lack security authority, providing the PA with the opportunity to initiate economic projects in Area C, which is entirely under Israeli control, releasing prisoners and so on.
Steps like these, Ross maintains, will lessen the lack of trust between the sides, balance the Shalit prisoner swap deal which was a great success for Hamas, and assist Abbas and Fayyad in their quest to gain support among the Palestinian public, especially in light of the possibility of presidential elections in the coming months, in which one of them – or both – will run. All of these, as far as Ross is concerned, are in Israel's interest.
For the average reader, who knows nothing about the details of the contacts between the U.S. government and Netanyahu over the past two years, Ross's suggestions sound new and refreshing. If only someone had thought of that two years ago. So here's the catch: they did. More than one person had these ideas. More than once.
Not only did they think of these things, but they also suggested them to Netanyahu and to Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Not only did they suggest it, they requested, pushed and begged. In fact, Ross himself was one of the people who did so. He was joined by Mitchell, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Quartet envoy Tony Blair, the foreign ministers of France, Britain and Germany, and many others. Ross omits this fact from his article.
So why has this still not happened? Ross also keeps this information from the Washington Post readers. He doesn't tell them that the Israeli prime minister promised him personally (along with other international officials), on numerous occasions starting in late 2009, that he would take exactly these sorts of steps to advance the peace process with the Palestinians. Ross also didn't mention that Barak, who holds the authority to carry out such actions, told him and additional senior U.S. officials that he believes this is the right road to travel.
But for Netanyahu and Barak there lies great distance between words and deeds. Even a technical step such as paving a road to the new Palestinian city of Rawabi has not been carried out until today, despite repeated promises. The reality is that Ross requested it, but until today his request has not been accepted. He insisted, but was rejected. He pushed, but was dissolved. That is the truth.
Reading the article gives the impression that Ross discovered the Americas. Or, more accurately, discovered Palestine. As though he was an alien that landed from Mars and offered magical formulas that human beings had not yet thought of. Netanyahu does not want to stop the occupation? It couldn't be. The Israeli government persists in its settlement policy? Nonsense. Abbas is unwilling to negotiate with Netanyahu even for a million dollars? Garbage. Just listen to Dennis Ross – there will be peace here in no time.
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