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'Palestinian political culture... treats concessions to Israel as illegitimate'

Dennis Ross: Europe must push Abbas to compromise for peace

Diplomatic community can’t keep giving the Palestinians a free pass, argues veteran former Obama adviser in NY Times op-ed, lamenting Ramallah’s years of rejectionism

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US envoy Dennis Ross, and Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat clasp hands after initialing an agreement on the partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank after a meeting at Gaza's Erez Crossing, Wednesday, Jan 15, 1997. (photo credit: AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US envoy Dennis Ross, and Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat clasp hands after initialing an agreement on the partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank after a meeting at Gaza's Erez Crossing, Wednesday, Jan 15, 1997. (photo credit: AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

In a stinging attack on both Palestinian rejectionism and European diplomatic wrongheadedness, US President Barack Obama’s former Middle East adviser on Monday urged the international community to “stop giving [the] Palestinians a pass” and instead pressure them to accept the compromises with Israel that are necessary for statehood.

In a New York Times op-ed, Ambassador Dennis Ross, the United States’ chief negotiator for Arab-Israeli issues from 1993 to 2001 and an Obama adviser 2009-11, argued that while it is fair to ask Israel to accept the basic elements facilitating peace — “1967 lines as well as land swaps and settlement building limited to the blocks” — it is also “time to demand the equivalent from the Palestinians on two states for two peoples, and on Israeli security.”

Ross noted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s latest efforts to pressure Israel via the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court will nothing to alter the reality on the ground, and blamed the Palestinians for dooming three previous efforts to resolve the conflict through negotiation. The Palestinians need to “respond to proposals and accept resolutions that address Israeli needs and not just their own,” he argued.

A veteran senior Middle East official in both Republican and Democratic administrations going back to the Carter presidency, Ross, 66, recalled that “since 2000, there have been three serious negotiations that culminated in offers to resolve the Israeli-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.”

On each occasion, Ross wrote, “a proposal on all the core issues was made to Palestinian leaders and the answer was either ‘no’ or no response. They determined that the cost of saying ‘yes,’ or even of making a counteroffer that required concessions, was too high.”

Unfortunately, Ross elaborated, “Palestinian political culture is rooted in a narrative of injustice; its anticolonialist bent and its deep sense of grievance treats concessions to Israel as illegitimate. Compromise is portrayed as betrayal…”

President Shimon Peres and Dennis Ross, the American diplomat, in Jerusalem, in 2014 (Photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
President Shimon Peres and Dennis Ross, the American diplomat, in Jerusalem, in 2014 (Photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Rather than backing the Palestinians as they seek to avoid mutual concessions with their UN and ICC gambits, therefore, Ross continued, “European leaders who fervently support Palestinian statehood must focus on how to raise the cost [for the Palestinians] of saying no or not acting at all when there is an offer on the table. Palestinians care deeply about international support for their cause. If they knew they would be held accountable for being nonresponsive or rejecting a fair offer or resolution, it could well change their calculus.”

Ross, today a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, blamed “most Europeans” for being “focused far more on Israeli behavior” than Palestinian intransigence.

He argued that resorting to the UN Security Council or the ICC during the current Israeli campaign would be counterproductive, being perceived as unfair and bolstering those candidates “who prefer the status quo. These candidates will argue that the deck is stacked against Israel and that the country needs leaders who will stand firm against unfair pressure.”

If the elections produce an Israeli leadership that is “prepared to take a peace initiative and build settlements only on land that is likely to be part of Israel and not part of Palestine, there will be no need for a United Nations resolution,” Ross reasoned. But if not, and if the Europeans then opt to return to the UN route, any resolution they back “must be balanced,” he emphasized. “It cannot simply address Palestinian needs by offering borders based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps and a capital in Arab East Jerusalem without offering something equally specific to Israel — namely, security arrangements that leave Israel able to defend itself by itself, phased withdrawal tied to the Palestinian Authority’s performance on security and governance, and a resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue that allows Israel to retain its Jewish character.”

Any such resolution would likely be rejected by the Palestinians, acknowledged Ross, just as they had rejected the necessary compromises in 2000, 2008 and 2014.” Israel, too, might reject such terms. “But the Israelis are not the ones pushing for United Nations involvement. The Palestinians are. And if their approach is neither about two states nor peace, there ought to be a price for that.”

Ross authored a book about the failure of the Clinton administration’s Camp David 2000 peace effort, “The Missing Peace,” in 2005. He has a new book, “Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship in a Time of Change,” due out in October.

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