Monday, February 25, 2008

Will Obama Takes Us Back to the Failed "Peace Process" Strategy of Dennis Ross?

Because of all the brouhaha over Barack Obama's Middle East advisors, Haaretz correspondant Shmuel Rosner went to interview Samantha Power, one of Obama's top foreign policy advisors. Power spent most of the time defending herself and Obama from the Israel "supporters" who are nervous that Obama will not continue the US policy of assisting Israel to commit national suicide. The article is here.

Power is not the Obama advisor on the Middle East, but she could be in line for a cabinet position, and so she managed to say the sorts of things that one expects from somebody who wishes not to offend the Israel lobby. But one statement caught my eye and lit a big red light:

Asked who is to blame for there being no agreement yet, Power says there is no point expanding on that, but emphasizes that "I've never blamed Israel for the failed talks" (at Camp David). But precisely how should these talks be handled, and what should the goal be? She's no expert on that, she says, and suggests calling Dan (Shapiro), the campaign's adviser on the Middle East, or Dennis (Ross), who also advises Obama (advises - but is not an advisor).

So have we now moved from Rob Malley to Dennis Ross, neither of whom are "advisors" but both of whom have advised Obama?

Dennis Ross, in case you missed it, was the chief architect of the Middle East peace process that ended in the Camp David fiasco. Of course he shouldn't be blamed for all of the failure -- there is enough blame to go around. But his lack of sensitivity to the Palestinian position, specifically, a lack of sensitivity to the political realities of the Palestinian negotiators, while having heaps of sensitivity for the Israeli side, doomed the talks to failure. What the US needed heading its Middle East peace process team was an honest broker, not an American Peace Now-nik.

Dennis Ross, I hasten to add, is a brilliant diplomat who is well-versed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and who desires nothing more than to see both sides live in peace. He, as well as the rest of liberal Zionists at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, should be heard in any administration. But they are clearly partisan, and their partisanship should be recognized as such. I found Ross's The Missing Peace to be a highly tendentious and self-serving presentation of Camp David. I don't need to read Norman Finkelstein's monograph on Ross's book to come to that conclusion. Of course Ross blamed Arafat because of where Ross was coming from. From a historical perspective, Arafat was considerably more important to the prospect of peace than was Ehud Barak, one of Israel's many recyclable/disposable general-politicians. Arafat was the Palestinian Ben-Gurion and Begin wrapped up in one, and, for all his well-documented flaws, he could have delivered the goods. But Ross, because he is a liberal Zionist, could only be impressed by Barak's "generous offers" and by Arafat's intransigence and unhelpful adherence to "principle."

I didn't realize Ross's fundamental biases until I read the Missing Peace. It is apparent already from the book's back jacket, where the blurbs are all written by Zionists or pro-Israel Secretaries of State. My suspicions increased when Ross purportedly presents the Israeli and the Palestinian narratives, itself a relatively easy task. He discharges the Israeli narrative (which, because it is Zionistic, takes in the sweep of Jewish history) fairly well, but then doesn't so much present the Palestinian narrative (which begins with the Jebusites), but rather analyzes the beginning of Palestinian and Arab nationalism. Hence, the asymmetry of his presentation is clear from the first chapter. And, indeed, it colors his central thesis that the Israelis in their negotiation have been motivated by pragmatic, security reasons (hence, they are able to compromise more), whereas the Palestinians have been motivated by principle, which makes them more intransigent (like the rightwing Zionists.)Ross's embrace of pragmatism over principle reveals the deep influence of the Mapai mindset on him, as much as a negotiator's desire for compromise. One tends to think that Ross would have appreciated more an Arafat accepting Barak's "generous offers" at Camp David as a tactical ploy than somebody who actually believed what he was signing. After all, he praised Ben-Gurion's pragmatism in accepting partition even though Ben-Gurion never gave up the Jewish state's claim to all of Palestine (as Arafat was asked to do.) Ben-Gurion was never asked, nor would he have agreed, to recognize the right of the Palestinians to a state. Of course, partition gave Ben-Gurion much more than Camp David, Taba, or Geneva would have given Arafat.

But all this is history. Dennis Ross failed badly, and after he failed, he came out of the closet as an Israel-apologist, albeit of the liberal Zionist variety. Let him stay in the think tanks, emerging every once in a while to chart strategic options for the Jewish people. Negotiations are not his strong suit.

I don't believe Barack Obama will break out of the "pro-Israel" model that US presidents have adopted since Kennedy. But God helps us if he goes back to the failed policies of the Oslo-Camp David period, where the Mapai-style principle of pragmatism trumped all other principles -- and ended up the most impractical principle of all.


Anonymous said...

Well Jerry I'm not too hopeful, regardless of who gets in.

LeaNder said...

Yes, he sounds less and less different. Maybe it was from the start only us wanting him to be.

Very, very sad.

Anonymous said...

Wow there is hope for us,I’m not ready to cross that path yet but keeping up with your blog got me closer to “dislike some” rather than hating them, sorry I can’t get my self to forget and turn my hate to trust yet….
Old member of Fatah