Posted by on February 02, 2012 in Blog

A report in Ha’aretz last week confirmed that former diplomat Dennis Ross has continued to serve the Obama Administration, despite his resignation last November. This news is troubling for a number of reasons. Ross has been involved in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations for well over a decade, advising the past three administrations and often working directly with Israeli government officials with whom he has close ties. 

Ross’s relationship with the former special envoy, George Mitchell, had apparently devolved to the extent that they often refused to even speak to one another – a dynamic which played no small part in Mitchell’s resignation last year. Mitchell proposed bold new initiatives to bring both sides back to the negotiating table, including pressuring the Israelis to freeze illegal settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.  These initiatives and many more were consistently undermined by Ross, who has frequently demanded maximalist concessions from Palestinians (no right of return, no attempts at independent recognition, no unity government) while advocating ever-increasing leniency for Israeli positions (including settlement construction and land annexation). His refusal to act as a fair and neutral arbiter in the negotiations is both counter-productive and unsustainable. Ross’s continued involvement in all levels of decision-making will inevitably prevent much-needed progress from ever coming to pass.

To make matters worse, Ross is deeply involved in a number of groups and organizations that demonstrate a considerable bias in his outlook. He chairs the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank, and works as a counselor for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank created by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Ross’s views are laid out in his regular publications for WINEP, including one from early January in which he argues that any peace overtures made to the Palestinians should be undertaken “without altering the territory' s political status” – a clear allusion to the continuation of settlement construction.

The continuing influence of Dennis Ross – through unofficial, inappropriate, and dangerous channels – poses a serious problem for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and is another example of Washington’s unwillingness to break with outdated perspectives on the Middle East; perspectives that have brought little success, but a great deal of global enmity. The rightful accusations of bias against American mediation in the conflict were directly responsible for the Palestinian decision to eschew peace talks. The unfair deal presented to the Palestinians by unsympathetic mediators played a significant role in President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to seek unilateral recognition, a self-described act of final resort in the absence of any substantive mediation.

Recent reports also detail that the White House has installed a secure direct phone connection known as a “red line” in Dennis Ross’s WINEP office.  Though the American public may not be particularly incensed by this, the Palestinian public is undoubtedly watching. Until the White House learns to consider Palestinians as equal partners in this process – and stop relying on the “expertise” of officials who refuse to recognize them as such – things will likely continue along as they have for the past twenty years: with no progress at all.

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