Stop giving Israelis a pass: What Dennis Ross could have said

Former U.S. ambassador and Mideast peace process envoy Dennis Ross penned a ‘New York Times’ op-ed titled, ‘Stop Giving Palestinians a Pass.’ In it, he calls out European diplomats for supporting international efforts to end the occupation while not demanding more of the Palestinians. Below is a duplication of Ross’s op-ed, almost word for word, but this time calling out former American diplomats for disparaging international efforts at ending the occupation while not demanding more of the Israelis.

Read Ross’s original op-ed here.

American diplomat Dennis Ross (Nrbelex/ CC-BY 2.5)
American diplomat Dennis Ross (Nrbelex/ CC-BY 2.5)

The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, rebuffs international consensus about ending the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and refuses to stop building settlements that have scuttled any chance of a negotiated two-state solution. In response to Palestine turning to the International Criminal Court, Mr. Netanyahu has now announced that he will empty the coffers of the Palestinian Authority — an oft-repeated and cliched punitive move that will produce Palestinian suffering but not alter the reality on the ground.

A former American official I read recently expressed sympathy for Israeli opposition to the Palestinians’ pursuit of a Security Council resolution. I responded by saying that if he favors Palestinian statehood, it’s time to stop giving the Israelis a pass. It is time to make it costly for them to focus on rhetoric rather than substance.

Since 2000, there have been three serious negotiations that culminated in offers to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict: Bill Clinton’s parameters in 2000, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts last year. In the first case the proposal was on Israel’s terms alone; in the second, the proposal was made by a prime minister on his way to prison, and who would be replaced by Mr. Netanyahu himself; in the third, Mr. Netanyahu consistently obstructed progress with settlement construction and destroyed the talks by breaking his pledge to carry out agreed-upon and scheduled good-will gestures. Israel determined that stalling and blaming the Palestinians was enough, and that it could live with the status quo.

Israeli political culture is rooted in a narrative of victimhood, its cognitive dissonance about its colonialist nature and its ethnocentric values treat concessions to the Palestinians as foolish. Compromise is portrayed as weakness, and negotiations — which are by definition about mutual concessions — will inevitably force any Israeli leader to challenge his people by making a politically costly decision.

But rebuffing international consensus on the occupation does no such thing. It deludes Israelis into believing there is no pressure and requires no initiative of them. Its diplomatic intransigence is typically about what the Palestinians must do and what Israel should get. If saying yes to the world, international law and diplomatic consensus is so costly and further entrenching the status quo of occupation isn’t, why should we expect the Israelis to change course?

That’s why former American peace negotiators who fervently support Israel despite its intransigence and apathy toward world opinion must focus on how to raise the cost of saying no or not acting at all when international institutions and parties offer to get involved. Israelis care deeply about international support. If they knew they would be held accountable for being nonresponsive or rejecting new paths for ending the occupation, it could well change their calculus.

Unfortunately, most former American peace negotiators are focused far more on Palestinian Security Council resolutions aimed at ending the occupation and want, at a minimum, to see the text of such resolutions be more “balanced.”

But rejecting efforts to end the occupation and ensure the respect of humanitarian law in the territories is counterproductive. It will be seen in Palestine as a one-sided approach, and it will strengthen Palestinians who see bilateral diplomacy as futile. Those Palestinians will argue that the deck is stacked against Palestine and that the country needs leaders who will do more than sit on the low chair at a table with their occupiers.

Why not wait? If a new Israeli government abandons the demands of each and every one of its predecessors and is prepared to take a peace initiative and dismantle settlements and checkpoints on occupied land, there will be no need to oppose UN resolutions and Palestinian ascension to the ICC.

If not, and if Israel’s patron ex-diplomats in Washington decide to offer their own resolution, it must reflect the power imbalance of Israel and Palestine. It cannot simply address Israeli security needs by offering it creative ways to retain control of the West Bank and prevent a just resolution to the Palestinian refugee problem without offering something equally specific to the Palestinians — namely, international supervision and tangible consequences for Israel if it violates the newly formed state’s sovereignty, and guarantees of full civil rights for Israel’s minority Arab-Palestinian population.

In all likelihood the Israelis would reject such a resolution. Accepting it would require compromises that they refused in 2000, 2008 and 2014. There is, of course, no guarantee that the Palestinians would accept such a resolution. But the Palestinians are not the ones entrenching the occupation and rejecting efforts to end it. The Israelis are. And if their approach is neither about two states nor peace, there ought to be a price for that.

Peace requires accountability on both sides. It’s fair to ask the Palestinians to accept the basic elements that make peace possible — 1967 lines as well as land swaps and settlement building limited to the blocs. But isn’t it time to demand the equivalent from the Israelis on immediately ending the occupation and dismantling all settlements that Palestinians haven’t expressly approved? Isn’t it time to ask the Israelis to respond to international proposals and accept resolutions that address Palestinian needs and not just their own?


Michael S. Omer-Man, managing editor at +972 Magazine, has never been a negotiator for Arab-Israeli issues for anyone, ever. He is the author of the forthcoming article “[Face-palm]: Why Israel won’t end the occupation on its own.”

No version of this article has, nor will it ever, appear in print, in sections A, B or C of any newspaper, certainly not on January 5, 2015.