Former US peace negotiator Dennis Ross.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
US President Barack Obama has made errors in his efforts to advance a diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians that have prevented an agreement from being reached, Clinton administration peace negotiator Dennis Ross said Tuesday.
Speaking to the Jerusalem-based English talk radio network VoiceofIsrael.com, Ross gave Obama credit for advancing Israel’s security but said Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would be more sensitive to both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He echoed Clinton’s criticism of Obama’s approach on settlements.
“Insisting on a complete freeze, including natural growth, established an objective that no Israeli government had carried out,” Ross said. “Creating a standard that couldn’t be achieved gave the Palestinians an excuse to sit back and do nothing and say, Until you deliver that, there is nothing for us to do. That put us on the wrong path. I think it was a mistake, and it made it very difficult to do very much on the peace process.”
Ross also had criticism for Obama’s attempt at outreach to Israelis last week via a speech at a Washington synagogue and an interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg. He explained how the outreach could have been more effective.
“Obama would become more convincing if his questions on how to pursue peace wouldn’t focus so much on Israel,” Ross said. “If one is going to raise questions on why we don’t have peace at this point, the criticism has to be directed toward both sides. It can’t be directed only toward the Israelis. There can’t be questions only about Israeli responsibilities when there’s no reference to Palestinian responsibilities. Had the president reflected more on that in his comments, it would have resonated more here. If you look at the comments, they tend to be focused only on what Israel can do, not what the Palestinians can do or haven’t done.”
Ross said Obama could have noted that Israel had made three significant efforts to pursue peace since 2000, and in each case the Palestinians rejected or didn’t respond to them.
On the Iranian issue, Ross, who was an envoy for Obama on Iran, suggested that the Iran deal being worked on should have provided more of a stick if it was violated.
“If we saw Iran moving to a nuclear weapon, it could trigger the use of force, or Israel could receive capabilities that would allow it to use force,” he suggested.
Ross is co-chairman of the board of the Jewish People’s Policy Institute.
He helped lead a discussion at JPPI’s conference in Glen Cove, New York, last week on the future of the relationship of Israel, the US government and American Jewry.
The JPPI recommended being inclusive of all streams in the US Jewish community, especially at a time when there is an effort to delegitimize Israel.
Ross advised including those who have an attachment to Israel but are critical.
Ross said building only in settlement blocs could help persuade the international community that Israel’s policies are consistent with a two-state solution.
He said it could also harm the efforts to boycott, divest from, or place sanctions on, Israel.
“The problem at this point is the perception internationally that Israel is building everywhere in a way that suggests they are not committed to a twostate outcome,” Ross said. “The BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement tries to hide their real purpose, which is that there be no Israel.
They use settlements as a mask to hide that goal. If you take away their mask, it gets harder to sustain the movement.”