Dennis Ross: Netanyahu’s attorney in Washington

Dennis Ross presents a framework for renewing the peace process, which he apparently lifted directly from the Israeli PM’s hard disk – including de facto recognition of permanent Israeli control over eight percent of the West Bank. 

Dennis Ross: Netanyahu's attorney in Washington
Allowing free hand to the Israeli leadership. Dennis Ross (Nrbelex/ CC-BY 2.5)

Veteran U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross had a full page op-ed in The New York Times this weekend, in which he presents a 14-step program that is supposed to establish a framework for renewing the diplomatic process. The piece includes a lot of talk about peace, but the action items are lifted from Netanyahu’s policy book, demonstrating again why the Palestinians were right when they refused to meet Ross – the man is the informal Israeli ambassador to Washington. Only that in the past, his positions were closer to those of the Israeli center (Kadima/Labor); today he is teaming up with the Right.

Ross juxtaposes a list of “demands” from each side – which are in fact directed only at the Palestinians. They are to publicly recognize Israel’s connection to Jerusalem – despite the fact that it is the Israeli government which refuses to acknowledge Palestinians claims to the city, not vice versa. They need to include Israel in their maps – Ross knows all too well that since 2009 it has been the Israeli side that refused to open maps in the talks. And so on.

From Israel, Ross demands it stop construction of settlements beyond the separation barrier, but he accepts and even explicitly supports building projects west of it, in an area consisting of 8 percent of the West Bank. This is perhaps the most astonishing point in the article, because it: (a) encourages Israeli construction in the occupied West Bank – something the entire international community, including all American administrations, refused to do so far; (b) it accepts Israel’s interpretation of the notion of “settlement blocs,” including the Ariel and Kadumim “fingers,” which cut through the northern West Bank, and; (c) it sees the security barrier Israel unilaterally constructed on Palestinian land (and not on the internationally recognized 1949 armistice lines) as the future borders of the Palestinian State.

Thus, Ross is echoing Binaymin Netanyahu’s refusal to see the 1967 border as the starting point for any negotiations. It is worth noting that annexing 8 percent of the West Bank to Israel means dropping the idea of equal land swaps, because Israel won’t be able to come up with more than 3-4 percent of land west of the Green Line with which to compensate the Palestinians for the annexed settlement blocs.

In short, Ross’ plan puts the entire burden on the Palestinians, and accepts the Israeli leadership’s preconditions, including an unprecedented recognition of most of the settlements before negotiations even began.

The idea that the Israeli leadership should get whatever it wants (in order to accommodate Israelis’ various anxieties, justified or not) – and that as a result, it would understand that the occupation needs to come to an end – is so bizarre and so disconnected from the realities of political behavior that it’s difficult to believe it has been the corner stone of American diplomacy for the last couple of decades. Left alone, Israeli leaders choose the easy way of accepting the status quo.

Ross’ has left the administration but his ideas are still popular in Washington. This is not because they have any chance of working – by now, it’s clear that he is one of the least successful diplomats ever to work for an American administration – but because they create the comfortable illusion that it’s possible to achieve “peace” without confronting the Israeli government and its powerful allies in D.C., something nobody really wants to do. Instead, he suggests redrafting American policy according to the new desires of the Israeli politicians, while applying the real pressure on the Palestinian side (acting as “Israel’s attorney,” as Aaron David Miller, another American negotiator, has called this approach). If adopted again by the administration, this short-sighted and dangerous policy is only likely to bring more suffering on Palestinians (and consequently on Israelis), and further diminish whatever American credibility is left in the region.

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