Dennis Ross: stop blaming the Palestinians

Rich Forer writes:

Dennis Ross has done it again. In “Stop giving Palestinians a pass” (New York Times, 4 January 2015), he blames the Palestinians for the lack of peace with Israel. Citing “three serious negotiations”– the 2000 Clinton parameters, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 proposal and the recently ended negotiations led by Secretary of State John Kerry – Ross implies that Palestinian refusal to compromise spoiled each of these opportunities.

I remember when Ross appeared on the “MacNeil Lehrer News Hour” in 2000 and claimed that the collapse of that year’s Camp David Summit was due to unreasonable demands Yasser Arafat had made of the Israelis. Ross’s commentary was the decisive advantage that I, an American Jew, seized upon to convince Israel’s critics that the Jewish community’s long-held belief that Israel had always wanted peace but the Palestinians did not was unequivocally true. Years later, I discovered that Ross’s claim was disputed by many observers, including Israeli negotiators, who characterised Ross as more pro-Israel than they were.

Left to right: Dennis Ross and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barack, 6 August 2006. Israeli offiicials viewed Ross as more pro-Israel than they were

In his book, The much too promised land, Aaron David Miller, a member of Ross’s negotiating team at Camp David, quoted Israel’s chief negotiator at Camp David: “[I]n the words of… Shlomo Ben-Ami, [Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s] idea of the concessions required of Israel for such a sweeping accord ‘fell far short of even modest Palestinian expectations’ (p. 297).”

Later in 2000, President Clinton presented his parameters, which became the basis for the January 2001 negotiations at Taba, Egypt. Although an improvement over the Israeli position at Camp David, the parameters gave Israel control over portions of East Jerusalem, all of the Jordan Valley and provided no direct Palestinian access to Jordan. A former Israeli chief of staff, General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, a member of Israel’s negotiating team, said: “Taba was not aimed to reach an agreement. Taba was aimed to convince the Israeli Arabs to vote” (quoted in The truth about Camp David: The untold story about the collapse of the Middle East Peace process by Clayton Swisher, p. 403). Referring to the forthcoming Israeli elections, Lipkin-Shahak was suggesting that Barak had used Taba as a charade in order to get out the Israeli-Arab vote in a last ditch attempt to defeat Ariel Sharon.

Olmert’s 2008 peace offer was a further improvement over previous proposals, yet Olmert refused to give Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas a copy of the Israeli map, which outlined the future borders of both states, unless Abbas first initialed it. Furthermore, Abbas was told by Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni not to accept the Olmert offer. The Palestinians planned on continuing negotiations after Olmert left office but were stuck with Binyamin Netanyahu, who, as Ross well knows, has been relentless in sabotaging negotiations, putting up roadblock after roadblock or, should I say, settlement after settlement.

With regard to John Kerry, Ross is certainly aware that the secretary’s proposal took Israeli bottom lines as its starting point, nullified a Palestinian right of return and would not, in any case, have left Palestinians with a state of their own. The point is moot anyway, as virtually everyone involved knows that Netanyahu, who has bragged openly about undermining the Oslo agreements, never had any intention of making a sensible peace, hewing instead to his Likud ideology, which explicitly rejects a Palestinian state and calls for the Jordan River to be the easternmost border of the Jewish state.

With his considerable influence on Middle East issues, Ross knows that his comments affect the attitudes of large numbers of people, especially in the critically important Jewish community. Presumably, Ross would like to see peace between the two sides. Paradoxically, by unfairly portraying Palestinians as incapable of compromise, while aligning himself with Israel’s contempt for international law and racist ideology, Ross’s irresponsible remarks will make peace between the two sides less likely.

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