Dennis Ross ‘peddling the same snake oil’

If one man can be said to epitomize the failure of the peace process more than any other American official, it’s probably Dennis Ross. Why then, one might then ask, would he have such a central role in getting this “derailed” process “back on track”?

According to this report from Laura Rozen, Ross is provoking some blistering criticism from inside the administration, with one official quoted posing this exact question in the bluntest terms: “why, since [Ross’s] approach in the Oslo years was such an abysmal failure, is he back, peddling the same snake oil?”

Ross’s line is the Israel lobby’s line: American and Israeli interests are indistinguishable. The funny thing about that line is that if it was really true, then Washington would only need to take care of US interests – Israel’s would inevitably be served.

In truth, the only reason the drum of “indivisible interests” needs to be beat upon so loudly is because it’s so obvious that American and Israeli interests diverge.

Since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tense visit to the White House last week, an intense debate inside the Obama administration about how to proceed with Netanyahu to advance the Middle East peace process has grown more heated, even as Israeli officials are expected to announce they have reached some sort of agreement with Washington as soon as tonight.

Sources say within the inter-agency process, White House Middle East strategist Dennis Ross is staking out a position that Washington needs to be sensitive to Netanyahu’s domestic political constraints including over the issue of building in East Jerusalem in order to not raise new Arab demands, while other officials including some aligned with Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell are arguing Washington needs to hold firm in pressing Netanyahu for written commitments to avoid provocations that imperil Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and to preserve the Obama administration’s credibility.

POLITICO spoke with several officials who confirmed the debate and its intensity. Ross did not respond to a query, nor did a spokesman for George Mitchell.

“He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu’s coalition politics than to U.S. interests,” one U.S. official told POLITICO Saturday. “And he doesn’t seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this Administration.”

What some saw as the suggestion of dual loyalties shows how heated the debate has become.

Last week, during U.S.-Israeli negotiations during Netanyahu’s visit and subsequent internal U.S. government meetings, the official said, Ross “was always saying about how far Bibi could go and not go. So by his logic, our objectives and interests were less important than pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi’s coalition’s red lines.”

When the U.S. and Israel are seen to publicly diverge on an issue such as East Jerusalem construction, the official characterized Ross’s argument as: “the Arabs increase their demands … therefore we must rush to close gaps … no matter what the cost to our broader credibility.”

A second official confirmed the broad outlines of the current debate within the administration. Obviously at every stage of the process, the Obama Middle East team faces tactical decisions about what to push for, who to push, how hard to push, he described.

As to which argument best reflects the wishes of the President, the first official said, “As for POTUS, what happens in practice is that POTUS, rightly, gives broad direction. He doesn’t, and shouldn’t, get bogged down in minutiae. But Dennis uses the minutiae to blur the big picture … And no one asks the question: why, since his approach in the Oslo years was such an abysmal failure, is he back, peddling the same snake oil?”

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  1. DE Teodoru says

    Ross is just one more Clintonista inserted between the White House and Mitchell that gets to make a pig of himself gobbling power at the Foreign Policy table. But the essential physics of the situation he can’t change: Israeli Right takes extreme positions as a bargaining position only to get stuck there for the sake of the psycho votes that see no reason for not imposing Old Testament mythology on the Middle East. Those votes may be less that 10% but they’re the king maker in Israel. In the meantime, professional Israelis and Diaspora Jews are running away from the Likud psycho regime as if it were a temple on fire. But there’s no room for magic so Ross is only tying to be of use to the people he thinks will feather his bed in 2012. The Zionazis and the Clintonistas are all betting on Obama forced to be a one-termer because enough jobs will not come back. So in the end, no foreign leader can help Obama. He has got to revitalize the American manufacturing economy at the expense of the card-sharp “entrepreneurs.” Now is the moment for academia to show its usefulness or they’ll get Hillary vs. Petraeus, she’ll lose, and we’ll be on the road to an adventure none of us can predict.

  2. The ONLY reason the credibility of the United States is at risk is that President Obama has put it at risk – by making promises to the Arabs that can not be kept. Of all the purported peacemakers in the room only Dennis Ross has actual, deep experience with so-called ‘peace process’. Dennis Ross is not peddling snake oil -and he most certainly was not repsonsible for the breakdown of negotiations between the Plaestinians and Israel. The blame for that train wreck can be placed squarely with the Palestinan leadership – which has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Mr. Ross is merely trying to give the U.S. the benefit of his hard-earned experience in the arena of Palestinian-Arab and Israeli relations. Messrs. Mitchell, Obama – and the State Department pundits would do well to heed Mr. Ross. The idealogues who believe that wishing something would make it so are pushing the Middle East away from peace and alienating their truest ally, Israel. With all deference to Mr. Teodoru, with all his name-calling, most Israelis – professional and otherwise- are backing Netanyahu on this one. President Obama has misread the situation badly. If he is mistrusted by the parties, his lack of credibility is almost entrirely of his own making. The President may try to blame others for the results of his misread – and even and treat them shabbily in his petulance – but that won’t make things better. In fact, such behavior will compound the problem. Mr. Abbas is not a peacemaker. Even if he were, the “street” that his predecessor cultivated and which Mr. Abba continues to incite will not let him make peace while President Obama is making unprecedented, unwarranted and unrealistic demands on Israel. Finally, to follow on Mr. Teodoru’s metaphor, the Israelis had their fill of running from burning Temples. Frankly, we in Israel are done with people burning our Temples, denying they existed and so on. And, a fair number of Diaspora Jews also take issue with people who believe that everybody _except_ Jews are entitled to bulid in their historic capital. Dennis Ross has valuable insight, here. Someone should heed it -before it’s too late.

  3. Chet Roman says

    Ross is part of the Jewish lobby. How can he possibly represent the U.S.’s best interests? He was recently chairman of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute based in Jerusalem which promotes racial purity.

    Aaron David Miller said that during Camp David negotiations the U.S. was acting as “Israel’s lawyer” referring to Ross.

    His actions seem to indicate that his first loyalty is to Israel. Is it any wonder with “diplomats” like Ross we were never able to secure a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians.

  4. DE Teodoru says

    Mr. Elihu, you are rather vague as to WHY the Obama promises can’t be kept. Perhaps it is because you realize that a cancerous tumor can be killed by cutting off its blood supply. After all, once cancerous, cells become so metabolically active that they hog all incoming nutrients via blood vessels they promote with the vascularization factors they release (like AIPAC is for Israel at the purse of the US Congress), However, eventually, the supply cannot keep up with demand and the tumor turns into a necrotic ulcer. Perhaps if Israel differentiated itself from an aggressive cancer into a local tissue contributing to the homeostasis of the Middle East it would fit in quite nicely. It’s not too late. After all, differentiation of cancer cells is where molecular oncology is going. Ross has worked as a promoting factor for both the body and the cancer and it’s hard to tell which he is now.

  5. Dear Mr. DE Teodoru:

    Mr. Obama’s promises to the Arab regimes cannot be kept because those regimes continue to strive for what they have always advocated – and sought to acheive alternatively through violence and diplomacy- the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. Israel wants to live in peace – but not at the expense of its very self-determination. Your vile reference to Israel as a cancer is representative of the precise attitude that Israel will always exist to resist. Israel is not a cancer. It continues to be a beacon of Democracy, human rights and inspiration in a sea of petty oil despots. Israel has turned arid desert and hard-scrabble hillops into a blossoming paradise. Its people bring more to the world in terms of scientfic and medical technology than any other nation in the region. And – by the way – anyone visiting Israel’s public hospitals will see that they provides superb care for Jews and Arabs alike. Israel shares its technology with Jordan and Egypt despite a decidely cool peace and continues to seek bridges of peace to its other Arab neighbors, despite their incitement against it. Your vision of ‘homeostasis in the Middle East’ is not a paradise. It would admit of no entity other than Arab dictatorships or monarchies – which (like the cancer you describe) want to swallow up everthing that does not bow to their ideology.