Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Did Dennis Ross Kill The Middle East Peace Process?

By Stephen M. Walt
In case you missed it, veteran Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar has written a scathing denunciation of U.S. Middle East policy -- and long-time Middle East advisor Dennis Ross -- in Ha'aretz. His bottom line is that Oslo is over, yet the United States is still trying to convince the Palestinian leadership to buy into a diplomatic process that has been a cover for continued settlement building and has manifestly failed to bring them a state. The key passage:
"It would be tough to find a bigger expert than Ross on the myths and illusions related to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. For years he has been nurturing the myth that if the United States would only meet his exact specifications, the Israeli right would offer the Arabs extensive concessions.
During the years he headed the American peace team, Israeli settlement construction ramped up. Now Ross, the former chairman of the Jewish People Policy Institute, is trying to convince the Palestinians to give up on bringing Palestinian independence for a vote in the United Nations in September and recognize the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people -- in other words, as his country, though he was born in San Francisco, more than that of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was born in Safed.
If they give up on the U.N. vote, Ross argues, then Netanyahu will be so kind as to negotiate a final-status agreement with them. Has anyone heard anything recently about a construction freeze in the settlements?
Ross is trying to peddle the illusion that the most right-wing government Israel has ever seen will abandon the strategy of eradicating the Oslo approach in favor of fulfilling the hated agreement. In an effort to save his latest boss from choosing between recognizing a Palestinian state at the risk of clashing with the Jewish community and voting against recognition at the risk of damaging U.S. standing in the Arab world, Ross is trying to drag the Palestinians back into the "peace process" trap.
If Obama really intended to justify his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, he would not have left the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the hands of this whiz at the never-ending management of the conflict.
As Eldar makes clear, Ross has been advising presidents ever since the first Bush administration and played a central role in both the Clinton and Obama administration, and his stewardship of the "peace process" has led exactly nowhere.
In what other line of work could someone fail consistently for two decades and still have a job? If you were a baseball manager and your team didn't make the playoffs for two decades running, you'd have been canned long ago. If you were a CEO and you lost money for twenty straight years, the Board of Directors or the shareholders would have hired a replacement long ago. If you were a dean or a university president and faculty quality, student achievement and the size of the endowment kept declining on your watch, it's a safe bet you'd be told that your services were no longer required.
But when it comes to U.S. Middle East policy, there is hardly any accountability. And the tragic irony is that advisors like Ross -- who make no secret of their deep attachment to Israel -- have in fact done an excellent job of scuttling prospects for a two-state solution that is Israel's best hope of long-term security and international acceptances. After all, the only alternatives to "two states for two peoples" are 1) a binational democracy (which means the end of Zionism), 2) another round of ethnic cleansing (which would be a crime against humanity), or 3) some form of apartheid, with the Palestinians confined to a shrinking set of disconnected enclaves under de facto Israel control. And let's not forget that this affects us too: our one-sided mismanagement of the "peace process" is one of the main reasons the United States is so unpopular throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
If Eldar is right -- and I obviously think he is -- then the post-Oslo peace process is over and the two-state solution is either dead or on life support. And as I've said repeatedly, if that is the case, then which of the alternatives listed above will the United States support? Which of the various possible solutions to the long conflict over the Holy Land are consistent with America's supposed commitment to democracy, individual freedom, and basic human rights? (Hint: the United States is a liberal democracy where all races, religions and ethnic group are supposed to enjoy equal rights). When the two-state option is dead and buried and everyone admits it, what will presidents and secretaries of state say when they are asked what alternative they now support? For that matter, how would Dennis Ross answer that question?
-This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 06/07/2011
- Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University

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