Emory Report
May 7, 2007
Volume 59, Number 30

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May 7, 2007
Ross: Arabs, Israelis and U.S. share blame for stalled peace efforts

by carol clark

Dennis Ross agrees with former President Jimmy Carter on at least one point about the Middle East: It was a big mistake for the current Bush administration not to continue the U.S. role as mediator between Israelis and Palestinians.

“You have to be in the business of conflict management,” said Ross, former U.S. envoy to the Middle East under presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

When George W. Bush took office in 2001, Ross was called in to brief the staff on the Middle East. He told them that tension between the Israelis and Palestinians could boil over into a war “unless you make a concerted effort to keep things contained. They weren’t prepared to do that,” he said.

Even though the U.S. cannot force the two parties to reach a settlement, Ross believes the U.S. should stay involved. Good diplomacy and statesmanship aren’t necessarily about concrete achievements, he said. “Sometimes it’s what you contain, prevent and defuse.”

Ross spoke at Emory recently as part of the “Inquiry, Conflict and Peacebuilding in the Middle East” series, sparked by Carter’s book “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.” Carter, who discussed his book in a February town hall, contends that Israeli policies are the main obstacle to peace with the Palestinians.

Ross, however, said that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was primarily to blame for the failure of the 2000 Camp David Summit to reach a final-status agreement. “He couldn’t make the leap from being a revolutionary to being a statesman,” Ross said of Arafat’s unwillingness to make concessions.

Ross also disagreed strongly with Carter’s portrayal of Clinton’s Middle East peace strategy. “The main author of those ideas? That would be me,” Ross said. “So you know what? I actually know what they were.”
Carter should have gotten all of the details right in the book, Ross said. “In the Middle East, we have a conflict perpetuated by mythologies. You don’t make peace by making up new mythologies.”

Arabs, Israelis and the United States all share blame for the current stalemate, Ross said. He gave detailed recommendations for what each of these parties should do to get a peace process moving again:

Arabs: “The Arab world needs to get off the sidelines. They need to embrace the concept of compromise,” Ross said. “They have to be prepared, when the Israelis make a good move, even if they don’t accept it, to acknowledge it.” Instead, Arab leaders have more often sent a signal that “no concession on the Israeli side can ever be too big,” he said.

The Palestinians “need to develop a culture of accountability for themselves,” he added. “There’s no more significant problem for them to overcome. When you’re a victim, it’s always somebody else’s responsibility.”

Israelis: “Do Israelis have security concerns? You bet,” Ross said. “Still one of the things the Israelis have to do is, when they take a step, they can’t be indifferent about the impact that it has on the Palestinians.” Sending a signal to Palestinians that they are not important can trigger negative reactions, he said.

“The Israelis also have to realize that there will come a point where they have to give up control of the Palestinians,” Ross said.

The United States: “As a mediator, one of the most important failures we had was we didn’t hold anybody accountable,” Ross said, referring to violations of negotiated treaties. “You do nobody a favor if you give them a pass. We gave both sides a pass.”

The U.S. should also have developed a strict code of conduct in which to carry out the negotiations and made sure that leaders from both sides of the conflict conditioned their constituents to accept compromises.
Understanding opposing viewpoints is vital to effective diplomacy, said Ross. He recently finished a book titled “Statecraft: And How to Restore America’s Standing in the World.”

“Group think” led the Bush administration astray into the Iraq war, he said. “A bubble was created and those who thought differently weren’t allowed in. If you only talk with people who agree with you, you will never learn anything.”

For more on Emory’s Middle East dialogue go to www.news.emory.edu/middle_east/releases.