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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. 

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.

US top envoy leaving, and so should his politics
Haaretz’s pundit takes on US envoy Ross for aiding Netanyahu

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    1. Berl

      Too many times I wrote how much I admire Sheizaf and his clarity.
      be ready to receive a lot of criticisms from Bosko/Trespasser/Kolumn (3 different names for the very same person). Dennis Ross is his impartial source of truth.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      The real question is whether the goal of negotiations is to see the rise of a Palestinian state and the end of the occupation of the Palestinians while leaving Israel strategically secure. If it is then there is absolutely nothing in Ross’s plan that is problematic.

      If you object to his plan because you disagree with the goal itself you should state so explicitly. At the moment your list of complaints reads like a bunch of nitpicking.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        K9 says nothing about leaving the Palestinian state strategically secure.

        Reply to Comment
      • Andrew Miller

        No, the real question is how you define a “Palestinian state”. If you define this as Palestinians always have, then there is much in Ross’ plan that makes such a state impossible and seems capable of only perpetuating the occupation.

        To pick one just one example: by counting settlements like Efrat, Ariel, Har Homa, Ma’ale Adumim, and Givat Ze’ev as “settlement blocks”, Ross has proposed a priori that the “Palestinian state” will have no access to West Bank water aquifers and no access to Jerusalem. That is not a state that any Palestinian has ever expressed an interest in.

        Your comment makes clear that for you the “goal” of negotiations is a very Israeli one, without consideration for what Palestinians want. This is also true of Dennis Ross. Which is exactly Noam’s point.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          That’s precisely it. Can the Palestinians have a state leaving Efrat or Maale Adumim or Ariel exactly where they are or without including Jerusalem? Unequivocally and objectively YES. Can they rely on agreements with Israel to get the water they need like Jordan does? Of course.

          So, clearly the problem isn’t about creating a Palestinian state but about the conditions that the Palestinians [and people like Noam] wish to attach to its attainment. In many cases such conditions are meant to hide an ideological desire on their part to see Israel strategically weakened or eliminated as part of the outcome of negotiations. This should be explicitly stated rather than hiding behind nitpicking about the components of Ross’s plan.

          Reply to Comment
          • Jonny

            I’d like to see you explain how leaving Ariel & Maale Adumim somehow gives Israel more secure borders. Their purpose was & is to create a stranglehold on the West Bank and to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            If you have ever driven up from the Jordan Valley into Jerusalem you wouldn’t have any particular problems understanding the strategic value of Maale Adumim. The operative word in that sentence is UP.

            In any case, neither of these prevents the establishment of a Palestinian State which even without Ariel and Maale Adumim would still be thicker at its thinnest point than Israel within the green line. Not only that but Israel proposed the borders of a Palestinian state in the past so if they were designed to make sure Israel can’t contemplate the rise of a Palestinian state they have failed miserably.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Andrew Emenike

      I am yet to see a peace plan between the Palistenians-Isrealis that gaureentees both parties security in a secure boarder.Dennis Ross is a stool and a footnote of history hence he never made any headway in the peace plan.We need another Menecham Begin or Arial Sharon visionary leaders not Bibi

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Mostly because such a thing is not possible. There isn’t enough land to achieve it.

        Reply to Comment
    4. carl

      “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” = plain truth, no nitpicking

      Reply to Comment
    5. ruth

      Menecham Begin or Arial Sharon visionary leaders???? lol

      Reply to Comment
      • Andrew Emenike

        Arial Sharon pulled out of Gaza and Begin made lasting peace with the Egyptians.Sharon saw the handwriting on the wall.It takes a though man to make Peace not the chicken hawk Bibi.You cannot eat your cake and have it too

        Reply to Comment
        • ruth

          I agree, but the decision taken by Ariel Sharon had nothing to do with a “visionary leader”.
          Sharon and Begin were 2 of the most extremist and dangerous leaders in the history of this region.

          Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            It’s kind of a said day when a terrorist and a military general who was responsible for a massacre are regarded as visionary leaders, oh dear..

            Reply to Comment
        • ToivoS

          Andrew says: “Begin made lasting peace with the Egyptians.”

          Lasting?? Are you sure about that?

          Reply to Comment
    6. Danny

      I am a believer in Chuck Hagel, as a balanced and highly-informed man who, throughout his career, has steadfastly refused to have the wool pulled over his eyes by the likes of Dennis Ross. Hopefully Hagel will be more of an influence on Obama than the likes of Ross.

      Reply to Comment
      • Aaron Gross

        I’ve seen this theory a lot, but could someone (maybe you) explain why it’s the Ashkenazi, or European, Israelis who make up the peace camp – which is almost exclusively European-Jewish – and the Mizrahi, or non-European, Israelis who tend to be the hard-liners on security? Wouldn’t the theory that Israeli insecurity comes from European history predict the exact opposite?

        Reply to Comment
        • Leen

          I’ve read a couple of analysis on it and apparently a lot of people seem to regard it as Mizrahi Jews trying to earn their ‘Israeli credit’ by being more extreme than the norm. Since Zionism was found by Ashkenazi Jews, and Israel was built by Ashkenazi Jews, many Mizrahi Jews are trying to earn their stripes so to say and they go by the way of unabashedly supporting the state and not accepting a hint of criticism of it.

          Reply to Comment
          • Aaron Gross

            I’ve seen that explanation, too, but I don’t think anyone takes it seriously. If Mizrahim are voting Likud and Shas and opposing the Ashkenazi parties in order to win Ashkenazi approval, then they must be completely insane.

            Reply to Comment
    7. Arieh

      “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.””

      Really? Not vice versa? Then how do you explain this?

      ‘Our mission is to save Jerusalem,’ Abbas tells Fatah supporters in TV address to huge Gaza rally.

      Abbas always claimed that Jerusalem is to be the capital of Palestine.


      Reply to Comment
    8. Shmuel

      “it makes the Palestinians responsible for a Jewish Israeli sense of insecurity that was imported from Europe”

      Yes, you are absolutely right.

      The Israeli sense of insecurity has nothing to do with 100 years of pogroms, terrorism, Fedayeen attacks suicide bombing attacks and rocket attacks by Palestinians.

      Ok I am awaiting the chorus telling me off for being racist and that Arabs were only defending themselves from Zionist colonialists. Don’t bother, I heard it all before. But if you bother, then I will bother too. I hope you won’t mind?

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman


        if Israeli sense of insecurity cannot be dealt with without continuing oppression and dispossession of millions of people, then the state of Israel is a mistake.

        In any case, the steps that Dennis Ross proposed to be accomplished by Israel almost caused me a neck injury (falling from the chair backwards is always risky). All of them are hilarious in a sad way. Consider this:

        In “Area A,” which accounts for 18.2 percent of the West Bank’s territory and in which the Palestinians have civil and security responsibility, the Israel Defense Forces still carry out incursions for security reasons. Because these operations are a reminder of Israeli control and grate on the Palestinians, the I.D.F. could specify clear security criteria, which, if met by the Palestinian Authority, would end the incursions.

        This is nothing less but the program to annihilate the Jewish state! Clear security criteria!? Security criteria are the most secret of all secrets and a clear disclosure would compromise the security. Moreover, one could agree on some sensible criteria, like PA detaining all persons that IDF likes to detain, no questions asked, but could PA also demolish TV stations when required or perform other tasks of similar nature? And this is really a slippery slope of clarity. Say that PA would wish to know reasons why IDF wants to detain people, like in an ordinary deportation request?

        Reply to Comment
        • Shmuel


          Lets try something else for a change. Lets pretend that my kind are irrelevant and you guys in control.

          So tell us what would you do to make peace with our brothers, the Palestinians? How far would you go and what would you give up?

          Let’s just cover the following main points of difference:

          1. Return to the 1967 boundaries?

          2. Full right of Return? For how many refugees? All 5 million?

          3. Compensation to 5 million Palestinian refugees? Even though the original number of refugees was 700,000.

          4. Evacuate all the settlements?

          5. Let East Jerusalem become the capital of Palestine and remove all Jews from East Jerusalem?

          Ok thats enough for starters. I am interested to know your point of view with regards to the above 5 issues. Are you willing to divulge your POV?

          Reply to Comment
          • Shmuel

            The crickets are chirping.

            Still no response to my five questions. It is always easy to criticise what others (Dennis Ross) propose. But it seems much harder to voice alternative solutions.

            Piotr, Berl, anyone else? Have you anything to say?

            Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            Sorry for the crickets, and thanks for answering my post.

            My views are that the best solution is to return to 1967 borders, with MINOR adjustments in Jerusalem, in part because it is a simple principle, and once you discard that, there is a salami logic: the security of Israel requires also this slice, and this slice will be vulnerable without that slice and so on.

            Security concerns of Israel should be viewed in the same way as concerns of other state. How Paraguay can prevent a second holocaust inflicted by much bigger neighbor states? The same way it did for the last 150 years: by not picking fights. (The proportion of Jews killed in WWII is probably smaller than the proportion of Paraguayans who lost their lives during the war of Triple Alliance. No one cares about them, so do not expect any exhibits in a Holocaust museum.) Of course, other security measures are available too.

            Only be rejecting the fetish of “legitimate security concerns” one can think about realistic solutions. Means can poison the ends. Security achieved by oppression perpetuates and magnifies hatred and paranoia, it is like the reign of Macbeth.

            Reply to Comment
        • Actually, Piotr, “clear criteria” is a recipe for conflict and violence, if you think about it. The question you’re ignoring is, “Who decides?”

          Who decides whether those criteria were met in a given concrete case? Obviously, the different parties will have differing interpretations. What will be the reaction of those parties who dispute Israel’s decision? What will be Israel’s response to that reaction? Without any means of arbitration spelled out, how will these disputes be resolved? This “clear criteria” clause is school-teacher thinking, not political or juridical thinking.

          Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            Actually, my point is that “clear security criteria” postulated by Ross are impossible roughly for the reasons that you have described. I would make an absolute ban on IDF entering Palestinian territories, and since we need some interim period, I would start with Area A.

            Otherwise, the next time someone in security apparatus of Israel will be terrified (or concerned) by some TV program they will send troops to thrash the TV station.

            Reply to Comment
        • OK, let’s assume the State of Israel is a mistake then. Now what? Do Israelis abolish it and let the Arabs take over? Stop defending it to the best of their ability?

          Personally, I think that Zionism was a mistake. So was the European settlement of the Americas. Mistakes and more mistakes. What then?

          Reply to Comment
          • Shirley

            Why was the European settlement of America a mistake?

            Reply to Comment
          • Aaron Gross

            It was a mistake in the same sense that Piotr suggested that the State of Israel might be a mistake: It caused “oppression and dispossession” (his words) of the people who were already living there.

            Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            My formulation is meant as a challenge. When I was growing up in a land of apples (and potatoes) my family was from time to time a parcel with oranges from Israel. I really have nothing against the concept of Israel, but Israel with security fetish as it exists now is a mistake.

            It is hard to discuss security question without acknowledging the depth of irrationality that surrounds it. Security will be imperfect as it should be.

            “If you have ever driven up from the Jordan Valley into Jerusalem you wouldn’t have any particular problems understanding the strategic value of Maale Adumim.” And of course the Jordan Valley itself is of supreme strategic value! And without vigilant control of traffic over Jordan river, heavy weapons could find their way into the hands of extremists, like Miss Joudah who tried to finish her year as a teacher in Ramallah but was found to be a security threat. One threat averted, million other threats to go.

            Reply to Comment
    9. Andrew Miller

      Ross’ proposal (see http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/03/opinion/sunday/opinion-israel-palestine-mideast-peace.html?ref=global)
      is an astonishing piece of one-sidedness, even for him, for all of the reasons that Noam mentioned. I’ll mention one more breath-taking example of his bias:

      Step 6 reads “In the West Bank, this would mean building permanent housing in refugee camps and that those families who wished to move out of the camps would be permitted to do so.” This is amazing for at least two reasons. First, it makes the incredible suggestion that families are not permitted to leave the camps. This is ridiculous. Most refugees have, in fact, moved out of camps long ago; the refugees left in the camps are those who do not have the resources or connections to enable them to leave.

      The second reason that this is stunning is that it appears to be one more attempt to insist that Palestinians accept an Israeli position a priori, namely, that no Palestinian refugees will return to Israel. Ross proposes that Palestinians drop another of their deepest concerns as a *prelude* to negotiations.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Oscar

      “it makes the Palestinians responsible for a Jewish Israeli sense of insecurity that was imported from Europe”

      You might want to read the article below Jon. You seem to have a severe misunderstanding about how Jews in different parts of the world coped with insecurities.


      Here are some pertinent quotes from the article.

      “Which brings us full circle to the original question. “How could a people who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust inflict misery on others?” Actually, the vast majority of those that experienced the Holocaust can’t inflict misery on anyone because they’re dead. But surround the survivors and their children with hundreds of millions of armed and dangerous rocket firing, suicide bombing, homicidal holy warriors whose leaders promise to finish the job the Nazis started and it doesn’t take a genius to see that ruthless belligerence has more adaptive value than passive cowardice.”

      And this too …

      “As a thought experiment for those who wonder why we all can’t just get along, imagine if the Jews in Israel traded places with the Jews in America. How long would it be before the former were the most peaceful and prosperous immigrants on earth and the latter all died at the hands of jihadists? And while we’re at it, how long would the killing go on if Palestinians swallowed their pride, accepted defeat, laid down their arms, and started building a civil society? In what must be the most ironic turnabout in history, the unremitting violence that might have helped more Jews survive the Holocaust has now condemned the Palestinians to hell on earth while the passive cowardice that let Hitler kill six million could go a long way toward helping Palestinians alleviate their misery.”

      I find it interesting that most of the writers of the + 972 Magazine are American immigrants. They should give this article some serious contemplation..

      Reply to Comment
    11. Tzutzik

      Tovios said:

      “Andrew says: “Begin made lasting peace with the Egyptians.”

      Lasting?? Are you sure about that?”

      I am sure it won’t last. The ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will make sure of that.

      And you guys want Israel to lay down and play dead for the Palestinians for lasting peace.

      Hamas and lasting peace? An oxymoron.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Aaron Gross

      To give Ross his due, his proposal is not that one-sided. It includes a permanent settlement freeze in areas likely to become part of a Palestinian state and a government policy to encourage relocation of existing settlers out of those areas.

      I think Noam was much more to the point in comments he made elsewhere. As Noam said, this is the proposal of a schoolteacher, not of a diplomat or politician. Neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian government has any chance of getting the support needed to undertake those measures, even if they had the will. If the two sides had the will and the power for these measures (this is me talking, not Noam), then the conflict would have been solved long ago.

      Another example of his schoolteacher approach: “the I.D.F. could specify clear security criteria, which, if met by the Palestinian Authority, would end the incursions.” Any time you see the words “clear criteria,” read “conflict.” Who decides when those “clear criteria” are met? What will be the reaction of the parties who don’t accept that decision? “Clear criteria” smells like the Oslo accords.

      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        Any Palestinian state that has the Ariel finger as belonging to Israel is DOA. Just look at a map and imagine trying to get across it. Likewise with Gush Etzion. How are people from Al Walajah and Battir supposed to get to Bethlehem or Hebron?

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          They would drive east in order to get around the Ariel finger. How is that different from getting from Jerusalem to Beit Shean where you have to drive around the West Bank (unless you go through it)? Is that too DOA? Double standard much?

          Either Wallaja or Battir get annexed to Israel and they get Israeli citizenship or they get to Bethlehem and Hebron in the same way the residents of Gush Etzion get to Jerusalem – through tunnels.

          Would you like me to solve any other unsolvable problems you want to make up?

          Reply to Comment
    13. ToivoS

      Just testing here

      Reply to Comment
    14. berl

      Shmuel, it would a good starting don’t continue to exploit the palestinian natural resources to the benefit of the settlers and the israeli citizens.

      Reply to Comment
      • Shmuel

        There are lots of good starting points for both sides.

        I am interested in going beyond just starting points. So I ask you too the same five questions that I asked Piotr. Are you willing to state your position on those big issues?

        Reply to Comment
    15. Leen

      Well I hate to spoil Ross’s fun but building in 8% of the WB is still illegal.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Johnboy

      I have to say I “*love* the juxtaposition of these two:

      Israel: “This means that Israel would build only in about 8 percent of the West Bank (yellow areas on map at right) and no longer in the remaining 92 percent.”

      Palestine: “Make clear the commitment to building the state of Palestine, without encroaching on Israel, with a particular focus on the rule of law”

      So, you pesky Pallies Must Not Encroach Upon Israel. No exceptions. No prevarication. No way. No how.

      Oh, fer’ cryin’ out loud, Israel, you can satisfy yourself with 8% of Palestine, can’t you? Can’t you?

      How about like-for-like (i.e. that “reciprocity” thing that Netanyahu harps on about)?

      You know: NEITHER side encroaches upon the other. No exceptions. No prevarication.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Piotr Berman

      Shmul questionaire: ”

      1. Return to the 1967 boundaries?


      2. Full right of Return? For how many refugees? All 5 million?

      No. 1+2 is a “grand bargain”.

      3. Compensation to 5 million Palestinian refugees? Even though the original number of refugees was 700,000.

      I do not have clear ideas here. Perhaps one could make appraisal of the value of the lost property, estimate how large proportion can be paid to identified inheritors, and pay the rest to the organizations of the refugees.

      Palestinian citizens of Israel should have equal rights to bring spouses from abroad with other citizens etc.

      4. Evacuate all the settlements?

      Outside Jerusalem, definitely.

      5. Let East Jerusalem become the capital of Palestine and remove all Jews from East Jerusalem?

      Either that, or an international city with a principle that you cannot discriminate against one group or another, e.g. Jews, Arabs, Armenians etc. can live anywhere they want, and landlords cannot have ethnic preferences to whom they rent apartments. Police would have to be integrated and so on.

      Reply to Comment
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