Regardless of the problems that existed under the Obama presidency, the next administration’s initial instinct will be to improve ties with Israel, Dennis Ross said this week.
Ross, who dealt with Middle East issues under George H.W.Bush, as well as under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said whoever takes over the White House in January will realize that “you don’t need a problem with Israel when dealing with all the other problems in the region.”
“I don’t see that at a time when the Middle East is characterized by all this trouble, you are going to have an American president say, ‘Gee this is a time we should also have a problem with Israel. I just don’t see that,” he said.
Speaking Wednesday night in Jerusalem to the Jewish People Policy Institute, Ross said that nobody really knows what Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s position is on Israel.
“I know what he says,” continued Ross, who will be speaking at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York on May 22.
“He says that no one has been a better friend of Israel. Then he says he is neutral on Israel and the Palestinians. And when he says that, it is because he is talking about a deal, because he thinks that is what you do when you do deals.”
Trump is expected to lay out in at least a bit more detail his policies on Israel when he addresses the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington next week.
Speaking of the political mood in America, Ross said that while there is a great deal of anger and frustration coming out in the US presidential campaign, that does not mean that there is an appetite in the US for withdrawing from the world. In fact, he noted, while Obama’s favorability ratings are now at 52 percent, those numbers drop to 36 percent regarding his handling of foreign policy.
“There is an image, fairly or not, that the US is not playing the role internationally that creates respect for the United States, and there is a reaction to that,” he said.
Ross said that neither Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump, nor any other Republican candidate is talking about retreating from the world.
Ross, who spoke about his book Doomed to Succeed, which traces the US-Israel relationship from Truman to Obama, noted that during that period American policy-makers have held three basic assumptions regarding Israel.
The first assumption is that if the US would distance itself from Israel, it would gain from the Arabs.
“Five administrations have done it: Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, [George H.W.] Bush and Obama,” he said. “Every single administration that engaged in distancing never produced what they expected from the Arabs; rather than gaining from the Arabs they typically produced more Arab demands.”
The second assumption, a corollary to the first, is that “if you cooperate with Israel, you lose with the Arabs.”
This, too, has proven false, Ross said, since the Arabs regimes are interested in a close, strong relationship with the US because it has ensured their own security and survival.
“They were never going to make our relationship with Israel something that would undercut their relationship to us, because that would undercut their security and survival,” he said. “We consistently misread what had been the most important priority to the Arab leaders.”
And the third assumption, which recent events in the region has also proven to be false, is that “you can’t transform the region, or America’s position in the region, unless you solve the Palestinian issue.” If the Palestinian issue would be solved tomorrow, he said, all the other issues plaguing the region would still remain.
Ross said that there is a need to continue solving the Palestinian- Israeli issue for the sake of Israel and the Palestinians, but not because of an expectation that the US can “fix” the region by a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.