Dennis Ross says two-state solution is not dead, only way to Mideast peace October 31, 2012

Haaretz   -   30 October 2012

“Those who say that the two-state solution is dead are not serving the interests of peace and certainly not serving the interests of Israel and the Palestinians,” says former top White House adviser and peace negotiator Dennis Ross.

“There’s no such thing as a one-state solution as it relates to peace. That’s a contradiction in terms. The idea that one could somehow ignore the demographic reality is anathema to me. The idea that you can somehow wish away the Palestinians is an illusion.”

Ross told Haaretz that he opposes unilateral moves “because it means that the only ones who have responsibilities are the Israelis.” And he believes that there is still potential to achieve a two-state solution through negotiations.

Ross called on the Israeli government to express a willingness to reach a solution with the Palestinians and offer diplomatic initiatives aimed in part at dispelling notions that it is indifferent to the peace process. Such initiatives would also help in the campaign against Israel’s delegitimization.

Ross was speaking on the eve of the Jerusalem conference of the Jewish People Policy Institute, of which he is co-chairman. The institute commissions and employs former senior officials and top researchers from both Israel and the United States, and crafts policy recommendations and papers for the Israeli government and major Jewish organizations abroad.

Ross admitted that if someone had told him at the time of the Oslo Accords almost 20 years ago that 20 years later there would still be no peace, “I would not have believed it.” But he deflected criticism of his personal role in the search for a solution, saying “nobody has spent more of his life trying to see if a two-state solution is possible.”

Ultimately, the United States cannot “deliver” peace, he added. “Each side has to have a reason to defend it. Each side is going to have to contend with those who are opposed to it. Unless you have a vested interest in it, you’re not going to stand up to those who are against it.”

On Iran, Ross said that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, whoever is elected U.S. president, would be likely to launch a major diplomatic initiative to give the Iranians one last chance to avert economic disaster or a military attack. Such an initiative is worthwhile even if it fails because “if force has to be used, it will show that the Iranians brought it on themselves and exposed themselves as not wanting civilian nuclear power but going on with their quest for nuclear weapons.”

But Ross said that a reelected President Obama would be able to move much quicker on Iran than a newly-elected President Romney.

“The president has been dealing with this issue for four years, living with it, thinking it through, analyzing all the options. A new administration has to settle itself. New people have to be appointed. They have to look at their own sets of options. They’re going to have to go through this for themselves.”

In any case, Ross said, 2013 is “the year of decision.” And this is the first year that he has used this term, he added.

Ross, who left his post as Obama’s Mideast adviser in November 2011 and is now a “counselor” at the Washington Institute think tank, believes that “some of the gaps” between Israel and the United States over Iran “have been addressed” in recent weeks. He cited Obama’s statement at the recent presidential debate about the United States preventing Iran’s “breakout capacity,” which is very close to Israel’s position, which views Iran’s “capability” as a red line.

Ross, who maintains close ties with the administration, professed a lack of specific information but said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the United States had offered Israel “some additional military capabilities” for a theoretical military attack on Iran’s nuclear installations.

But Ross maintains that there are signs that the Iranian leadership is responding to the Iranian economy’s tailspin as a result of international sanctions. He cites Iran’s declarations of a willingness to negotiate over its nuclear enrichment program as well as statements by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on the effect of the “brutal sanctions” and the need to make “difficult decisions,” including “peace with enemies.”

Ross addressed challenges facing both Israel and the Jewish world as presented in a position paper entitled “Uncertain Realities – the Geopolitical Landscape” prepared for the conference by former Foreign Ministry director general Avi Gil. According to JPPI president and former Maariv journalist Avinoam Bar-Yosef, the geopolitical issues and others will be discussed in working groups and plenums to feature President Shimon Peres, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Malcolm Hoenlein of the President’s Conference, pollster Stanley Greenberg, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro.

Regarding the Arab Spring, and especially the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Ross was downbeat, saying that “in the short term, it has been seen through a pretty threatening negative lens.” He believes that the Muslim Brotherhood has not given up an inch of its “fundamentally hostile” stance but is now forced to contend with the need to produce results for Egyptians, especially regarding the economy.

“Does it get them to redefine who they are? No, but does it mean that their actual behavior is going to be driven more by these economic needs than an internal preoccupation?”

On Syria, Ross believes that the United States should try to reach out to the Alawite minority because “as long as they measure their survival as being dependent on Bashar Assad, then he’s going to hold on for a while.” He believes that the United States and others must try to influence the balance of forces among the rebels, both to preempt a possible takeover by jihadist elements and because continued fighting in Syria “radiates greater and greater danger of the conflict expanding to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Israel.”

Ross sidestepped a question on the possible ramifications of the linkup between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, saying that “the key is what will happen in the elections and what the government will do after these elections.”

Ross called on the Israeli government to come up with a proactive policy against delegitimization, while differentiating between those “who don’t want Israel to exist” and those who are critical of its policies. He said Israel “needs to demonstrate that it is not indifferent to peace” and that from time to time it needs to offer initiatives and test the willingness of the other side to engage.

Turning to the U.S. election campaign, Ross agreed that “nothing could be more detrimental to Israel’s long-term interests than to somehow be transformed from being a nonpartisan national issue of support to becoming identified with one party.” Although some have tried to turn Israel into a “partisan issue,” the effort has failed and “opinion polls demonstrate high levels of favorability for Israel.”

Ross is also unperturbed by the disproportionate attention devoted to Israel in the recent debates. “It may not be all that surprising because of the upheaval in the Middle East, so it isn’t surprising that you focus more on Israel as being a kind of ongoing pillar of stability. Part of the American electorate might have wanted to see a much broader debate on a wider array of issues internationally, but I think that represents a pretty small slice of the electorate.”

Ross dismissed speculation that he left the administration because of disagreements with Obama’s Middle East policies. “People didn’t want to accept the fact that I left because I promised my wife I’d only stay two years, and I stayed three, and I finally had to live up to my promise.”

He said that because of the nonpolitical nature of the Washington Institute, he is barred from campaigning for Obama. But “whenever I’m asked my views, I make very clear that I support him. I think that what he has done in the security area for Israel has no precedent. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Asked about the vehemence of some of the Jewish criticism of Obama, Ross said that “it’s not easy to explain. I think it comes from people who didn’t vote for him before and won’t vote for him this time either. I have been working with Israeli prime ministers for over 30 years and seeing their relationships with American presidents; they’ve all had their ups and downs. But you don’t tend to see the same kind of language that you’re describing. It’s a combination of disinformation and polarization.”

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