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Dennis Ross: Netanyahu agreed to West Bank pullout in 2010

In new book, former US peace envoy says US-Israel ties at lowest since 1982; cites Iran nuke dispute and anti-Arab comments by PM

Veteran US diplomat Dennis Ross (Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Veteran US diplomat Dennis Ross (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in 2010 that Israel could pull out of most of the West Bank if the Jewish state’s security requirements were answered, according to a new book by former US peace envoy to the Middle East, Dennis Ross.

Quoting Ross’ upcoming book, titled “Doomed to Succeed: the US-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama,” Reuters reported that Netanyahu made the comments when asked by then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton what he could do to move the peace process with the Palestinians along.

“He did not want to give percentages, but he understood what the Palestinians wanted, and if the Israeli security needs were accepted by us and met, he could be generally responsive,” Reuters quoted Ross as saying in the book.

Ross told Reuters on Friday that he believed Netanyahu was deliberately vague at the time about the territory Israel would be willing to cede under the terms of a peace agreement. He said this was consistent with previous Israeli leaders, who had also been reluctant to clarify a bottom line, fearing that whatever Israel put on the table wouldn’t ever be enough for the Palestinians.

The former envoy told the news agency that both Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama had an interest in repairing their famously fractured relationship during a visit by the prime minister to the White House next month. Ross said that the ties between American and Israeli leaders were at their lowest point since 1982, due to conflicting opinions on the US-brokered Iran nuclear deal and anti-Arab comments made by Netanyahu ahead of the March 17 Israeli elections.

US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during their March 3, 2014, meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during their March 3, 2014, meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Ross also sought to lower expectations of an imminent peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, saying Obama would be wise to spend his remaining 15 months in office working to reduce violence, and quietly questioning the Arab states about the ways to create a better atmosphere.

“I think you have to lower your sights. I don’t believe that Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] is capable of negotiating an agreement now,” Ross told Reuters.

He suggested that Obama could mollify Netanyahu on the Iran nuclear deal by proposing a consultative committee to address Israeli concerns about the agreement, and to consider ways of countering Tehran’s backing for the Lebanon-based Islamist group Hezbollah, an open enemy of the Jewish state with whom Israel fought a month-long war almost a decade ago.

Ross said that Netanyahu had to impress on the Obama administration that he was not trying to make support for Israel into a partisan issue, despite his open support for Obama’s 2012 election opponent Mitt Romney and the prime minister’s Republican-engineered speech to Congress in March.

“I don’t think there’s anything more important than that Israel has to be an American issue, not a Republican or Democratic issue,” Ross told Reuters.

“Within the White House there’s clearly a sense that they see him as playing a partisan game, and I think it would be important for him to make it very clear in words and deeds that that’s the last thing on his mind right now.”

Ross outlined three measures that Netanyahu could implement to improve his relationship with the American president: Helping Britain, France and Germany to better understand Israel’s concerns, inviting more moderate parties into his ruling coalition, and proving his commitment to the two-state solution by freezing settlement construction on territory he believes will be part of a future Palestinian state.

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