I’ve said that there are elements in the Obama Administration that are seriously hostile to Israel. Here’s one example, provided by Laura Rozen of politico.com (March 28):
“He [Dennis Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu’s coalition politics than to U.S. interests,” one U.S. official told POLITICO Saturday. “And he doesn’t seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this administration…”
Last week, during U.S.-Israeli negotiations while Netanyahu was in town and subsequent internal U.S. government meetings, the first official said, Ross “was always saying [sic] about how far Bibi could go and not go. So by his logic, our objectives and interests were less important than pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi’s coalition’s red lines.”
When the U.S. and Israel are seen to publicly diverge on an issue such as East Jerusalem construction, the official characterized Ross’s argument as: “the Arabs increase their demands … therefore we must rush to close gaps … no matter what the cost to our broader credibility…”
As to which argument best reflects the wishes of the president, the first official said, “As for POTUS, what happens in practice is that POTUS, rightly, gives broad direction. He doesn’t, and shouldn’t, get bogged down in minutiae. But Dennis uses the minutiae to blur the big picture … And no one asks the question: Why, since his approach in the Oslo years was such an abysmal failure, is he back, peddling the same snake oil?” [my emphasis]
I’ve boldfaced two statements that I want to discuss. I’ll take the second first. Dennis Ross, chief Israel-Arab peace negotiator under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, wrote a massive book about the “peace process” from 1988 through early 2001 when the enterprise crashed and burned with the launching of the second intifada (Ross: The Missing Peace, 2004). Nobody was more intimately associated with the negotiations than Ross. His “approach,” explained in great detail in the book, was to struggle to find formulas, “ideas” which would move the process forward toward a two-state solution without causing the Arabs to lose face or Israel’s security to be damaged.
At Camp David, Israeli PM Ehud Barak was pressed — by Ross — to make very significant concessions: on Jerusalem, on security arrangements, borders, etc. To a great extent Barak went along, although often against his own better judgment. Of course all the while, Yasser Arafat was paying operatives to perpetrate terrorism, making speeches in Arabic in which he called for all of Israel to become ‘Palestine’, and educating Palestinian youth to yearn for martyrdom in the struggle.
When President Clinton finally pushed Arafat to decide, to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, there was no way Arafat would go into reverse — and probably no way that he could, given the expectations that he had created. The rest, as they say, was history, as Arafat began the intifada that was to result in the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians — as well as the death of the idea that a compromise peace was achievable along the lines of a two-state solution.
To blame Dennis Ross or his “approach” for the failure of Oslo shows a disregard for the facts of recent history which is truly frightening, coming from a “U.S. official.”
Even more pernicious, though, is the first statement. The accusation that Ross puts Israel’s interests — or worse, Netanyahu’s own partisan coalition interests — ahead of those of the US is nothing less than slander of a very dedicated and professional diplomat. Some commentators even call it an accusation of ‘dual loyalty’ against Ross, who happens to be Jewish.
Ross’ argument, even when stated by a decidedly unfriendly witness, makes sense. Insofar as the Palestinians exploit US-Israel differences — such as the issue of building in Jerusalem — to give then an excuse to refuse to enter negotiations and to make ever more extreme demands, then we should try to reduce those differences. Especially, I might add, when those differences are based on new demands on Israel introduced by the Obama Administration!
Indeed, if the Administration is concerned with “credibility” with its allies, it shouldn’t screw them by reneging on previous commitments. But then the hallmark of this administration’s policy seems to be to help its enemies and hurt its friends, and apparently it only cares about its credibility with one side.