Autumn 2007

Dennis Ross speaking at Emory University

Point of view: Former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Ross spoke at Emory in May.

Brett Weinstein / The Emory Wheel

Spirit of Dialogue

Former U.S. ambassador Dennis Ross shares his perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict

By Samyukta Mullangi 10C

Following a February appearance by President Jimmy Carter to discuss his controversial book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dennis Ross spoke on the Arab-Israeli conflict at a campus town hall in May.

Ross’s appearance was organized after a number of students and faculty raised objections to the format of the Carter event, saying the University should have provided for an alternative perspective. Many suggested that Ross also appear.

Ross, a key player in the shaping of U.S. involvement in the Middle East under the past three presidential administrations, said Carter’s book is not offensive; it is in parts simply inaccurate. The book has been sharply criticized for alleged inaccuracy and imbalance.

“I was able to restrain my enthusiasm for this book,” Ross said wryly. At the same time, he added, he appreciated “the spirit of dialogue that the University was hoping to create in this context.”

Ross offered a short history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, explaining that there have been no peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in the last six years beyond limited, episodic dialogue. He criticized Arab nations’ practice of sitting on the sidelines rather than publicly acknowledging either side when they take significant steps toward peace.

Both sides can learn some lessons from the past, Ross suggested: Israel needs to understand that at some point, it will have to give up some control to the Palestinians. But Palestinians need to develop a culture of accountability, he said; casting Palestine as the victim is a political strategy, since victims are rarely held accountable for their actions.

Ross also said the United States did no one a favor by giving both parties a pass in the negotiation process. “We should have created a code of conduct,” he said. “We shouldn’t be negotiating something at the table that, outside the table, we completely belie.”

Ross proposed three tracks for dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. First, he said, the United States should broker a comprehensive ceasefire. Second, a political process must be put in place. “This is the essence of diplomacy—when you have an unacceptable reality, you have to change it,” Ross said, decrying the Bush administration’s lack of commitment.

Finally, Ross added, the United States needs to focus on gaining the support of the Palestinians.

Ross finished by saying that Carter’s misstep was that he misconstrued certain maps and data to support his ideas.

“If you believe the peace process entails people giving up mythologies and adjusting to reality,” he said, “the key is to not spread new mythologies.”

A version of this article appeared in the Emory Wheel.

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Autumn 2007

Of Note