DENNIS ROSS'S NEAR EASTERN GAMBIT: A COMMENT
"The US is floating the idea of a deal on the borders for a future Palestinian state as a first step towards a more comprehensive Israel-Palestinian Agreement, as it adopts a more conciliatory towards the Israeli government. The new stance has been linked to the growing influence of Dennis Ross, a Middle East peace process veteran who has risen through the ranks of President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. Mr Ross, who told a pro-Israel group this week that co-operation between the two countries had never been stronger, favours generous inducements to encourage Israel to extend a partial freeze on settlement construction.
The thinking behind the US position, say officials and analysts, is that a two- or three-month settlement pause would allow the sides to make progress on a partial deal on the borders in the West Bank of a future Palestinian state. Mr Ross’s mounting influence also appears to be casting George Mitchell, the official US envoy, to the sidelines. But critics say that Mr Ross’s approach is unrealistic. Elliott Abrams, the senior White House official on the Middle East under George W. Bush, says the inducements the US is offering, which could include selling Israel more arms and endorsing its possible long-term presence in the Jordan Valley, seem “desperate”.
Mr Ross worked on the US proposals in conjunction with Israeli officials, notably Ehud Barak, defence minister, and Yitzhak Molcho, a senior negotiator. “In 60 or 90 days you could get deep into the border negotiations,” says David Makovsky, co-author with Mr Ross of the 2009 book Myths, Illusions and Peace. “If you solve borders, then you solve 70 per cent of the conflict. But if it’s all or nothing, it’s probably nothing.”
Mr Makovsky concedes that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, leads a coalition unlikely to sign up to any such agreement. US officials say a deal may depend on the centrist Kadima party entering the government, adding that senior Israeli figures, including Mr Barak, have assured Washington that Mr Netanyahu is genuinely interested in a settlement....During the 2008 election campaign, Mr Ross visited Florida synagogues on behalf of Mr Obama to establish the candidate’s pro-Israel sympathies. He failed to prosper in a state department job on Iran but was moved to the National Security Council staff and became responsible for broad areas of Middle East policy. “He really now is calling the shots on all of those issues,” says Bruce Riedel, another veteran of the Clinton White House".
Daniel Dombey, "US pushes prospect of Middle East Peace Deal," 26 October 2010 in www.ft.com
"What the House of Commons is forcing the Government to do in Palestine is ruining the reputation of England throughout the East. Mr. Herbert Morrison, I see urges an almost completely pro-Jewish solution of the problem. This can be achieved by...blowing up Arab
villages one after the other because they are compelled to harbour rebels. When order has been restored, Palestine can be held against the entire Arab world by a ring of British troops round the frontier. This will look well for the champions of self-determination , and for all those whose heads are hanging. The fact is that on any except an intellectual
reckoning, the Palestine policy is infinitely shame-making compared with the refusal to go to war over Czechoslovakia. In Palestine we, with our own hands, are having to burn and explode villagers out of their villages for the sake of what is, as usual, a theoretical
obligation, an interpreted, often misinterpreted, text of twenty years ago, of which no one
knows the meaning. And, why are we doing it, considering that even the Cabinet know it is
unjust and suicidal?"
Sir Charles Arthur Evelyn Shuckburgh to the Earl of Esher, circa December 1938, in Descent to Suez, 1986, pp. 212-213.
The ballon d'essai published in the Financial Times earlier this week is of a piece with the evolution of American policy in the Near East under the current American Administration. Id est that after commencing with a lot of talk of a new beginning, and a sea change in American policy which would endeavor to be 'even-handed' to both sides, instead we have the usual, near-complete American capitulation to the government in Tel Aviv. Au fond, it hardly matters whether or not this state of affairs 'is fair' or 'just'. Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh's observations on that score are as pertinent to-day as they were back in 1938; as was predicted in this space, back in early November 2008, it was clearly myopic to the greatest degree to imagine that a new, Democratic Party, American President would ever endeavor to coerce an Israeli government to do something that it did not wish to do. The only instances in which an Israeli government ever made a major move on the peace front, was in cases in which it wish to do so for its own reasons and not because it was coerced in any way. Not of course that any American Administration other than the Eisenhower Administration in 1956-1957, and to a lesser extent that of Bush the Elder, ever engaged in such a thing in the first place. Bearing that in mind as well as the fact, that as John Foster Dulles opined back in 1954:
"we have just about twelve months to do something in, before another election looms up and makes all action impossible." Shuckburgh, op cit., p. 243.
It is difficult to imagine another 'plan' than that allegedly proposed by Dennis Ross being at all plausible in the current circumstances. Especially when dealing with the present Israeli government, which is not in the least afraid of its American counter-parts. Quite the reverse actually. If nothing else, Ross, who hardly has any liking for Netanyahu personally (most likely 'loathing' would be a better description of his feelings towards the Israeli Prime Minister), is probably the most intelligent and experienced practitioner of Near Eastern diplomacy available to the American Administration. His views are no doubt skewed by Zionist sympathies, but, that does not obviate the fact that if there is someone who can possibly navigate us to the safe harbour marked 'Near Eastern Peace' in the next two years, Dennis Ross is the man to do it. Very much a case of faute de mieux of course, but that is the situation that we are in at the moment.