dennis ross_311 reuters.
(photo credit: Gary Cameron / Reuters)
WASHINGTON – A top White House adviser defended US President Barack Obama’s
controversial posture on peace talks Friday, arguing that his approach was
paying off by garnering European support.
RELATED:G8 calls for negotiations under Obama's peace outlineEditor's Notes: Worlds apart
Dennis Ross, a senior adviser
to Obama on the Middle East, told Jewish newspapers that the president’s call
for Israeli- Palestinian negotiations on the basis of the 1967 lines, with
agreed land swaps, has been welcomed by European leaders during this past week
of international meetings surrounding the G8 summit of world powers.
character of discussions with the Europeans has clearly improved for the
better,” he said of talks held this week.
“They have been endorsing what
the president had to say.”
He explained that one of the reasons Obama
“became convinced” that it was necessary to lay out this basis for talks was
that it would give the US leverage with the Europeans so they wouldn’t support a
unilateral declaration of statehood that the Palestinians are seeking at the UN
“It’s important for us to be able to use with the Europeans
in particular, the fact that there is a credible alternative – there is an
alternative basis on which to pursue the negotiation,” he said. “It gives us an
ability with the Europeans to say this is not the right way to go. You should be
opposing any effort to go to the UN.”
Ross denied that he had advised
against Obama’s policy, which was hammered out leading up to his major address
on the changes sweeping the Middle East two weeks ago.
Binyamin Netanyahu was quick to push back against that approach when he visited
Washington the day after Obama’s speech.
Asked for the US response to
Netanyahu’s own speech before Congress – where in addition to rejecting a deal
on the 1967 lines, the prime minister spelled out positions on a unified
Jerusalem, and no right of return for Palestinian refugees, promptly dismissed
by Ramallah – Ross pointed noted, “he also talked about making painful
compromises, so I think you have to take the whole speech, and not just focus on
parts of it.”
In an off-the-record call with Jewish leaders Thursday,
Ross made a similar point about Netanyahu, but also rejected the Israeli charge
that the decision to include the 1967 language in Obama’s speech came without
Ross said the prospect of the US endorsing that position had
been raised as a possibility as long ago as last fall, so the concept that it
was suddenly sprung “doesn’t fit history,” according to participants, who spoke
on condition of anonymity.
They said that he did note that the decision
to include the reference hadn’t been made with Israeli agreement, but that
sometimes judgments need to be made, and these “judgments are never
Ross also warned that the Europeans don’t always believe
Netanyahu is “serious” about making peace, and see the United States as the
Israeli leader’s enabler, Jewish leaders on the call said.
conversation as well, Ross defended Obama’s approach, saying doing nothing would
have led to a drastically deteriorating situation when it came to heading off a
unilateral declaration of statehood, and that it also helped rally international
support for standing firm on Hamas after it signed an agreement to join a unity
government with Fatah on May 4.
Ross was joined on both calls by Steve
Simon, senior National Security Council adviser on the Middle East and North
Africa, who spoke more broadly about changes in the region.
He said the
urgency of making progress between Israelis and Palestinians had increased in
the wake of the Arab uprisings across the Middle East, as governments now would
be displaying more populist tendencies and have to be more responsive to public
opinion – much of it hostile to Israel – since it was no longer enough to sign
an agreement with one leader.
Simon pointed to the threat posed by the
Nakba Day demonstrations on Israel’s borders, and stressed Palestinians, and
Arabs around the region, would have to feel that there was progress, or Israel
could face “cruel choices,” according to those on the call.
explain America’s response to Libya, where the US has used military force on
behalf of protesters – and Syria, where the US has stayed out of the fray –
Simon said the two situations were fundamentally different, and that military
force wasn’t being considered in Syria.
“There aren’t the civil war
conditions obtained in Libya that triggered military intervention to be seen in
Syria,” Simon said, pointing also to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s use of
heavy weaponry against civilians and his declaration that he would hunt down
opposition members “like rats.”
“Gaddafi’s regime really did make war
against the opposition there,” he said. “It was a scenario in which military
intervention really was unavoidable and for which there was a strong
Simon added that those conditions didn’t apply
in Syria’s case and “we don’t see them developing certainly in the near
Simon recently took over for Daniel Shapiro, who on Thursday was
confirmed as the next US ambassador to Israel.