WASHINGTON – The US is firmly opposed to Palestinians pursuing a unilateral
declaration of statehood through the UN, the top White House Middle East adviser
“We have consistently made it clear that the way to produce
a Palestinian state is through negotiations, not through unilateral
declarations, not through going to the UN,” Dennis Ross told the Anti-Defamation
League’s annual leadership conference. “Our position on that has been
consistent in opposition.”
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As expectations increase that the Palestinians
will seek a UN resolution on the issue this September, Ross disparaged the idea
as unhelpful not only to the overall diplomatic environment, but to advancing
the Palestinians’ own goals. “This doesn’t make it more likely that
there’ll be a Palestinian state,” he said.
Instead Ross reiterated the
need for Palestinians and Israelis to engage directly, particularly given the
regime-toppling occurring in the region. He said that young and emerging
leaderships needed to see that Israel could make peace with the Palestinians and
that negotiations were a course for achieving results.
that they see that peace is a possibility,” he said. “They need to see that
negotiations can not only take place, but they can produce.”
For that to
happen, he said, each side needed to show that it understood the other’s needs
and realities, including the Palestinians providing assurances over Israel’s
very real security needs.
In addition, he said, “The Palestinians need to
see that they can have an independent state that’s contiguous and
Despite the regional confusion and the stalemate between
Israelis and Palestinians, Ross declared that “one thing in this period of
uncertainty that is certain is our relationship with Israel, bound with a set of
shared values and interests.”
He continued, “The commitment to Israel’s
security is unshakable and ironclad. It’s not just words. We are giving
it life and meaning each day.”
He noted the very real risks, particularly
Iran, and emphasized America’s intention to make sure Iran doesn’t acquire a
“We will continue to increase the pressure on the
Iranians,” Ross said, pointing to sanctions and other diplomatic measures
already being deployed against the regime, which is continuing to enrich uranium
in defiance of the international community.
Ross also acknowledged the
risk that Iran would take advantage of the regional upheaval. “Iran sees
in the turmoil something to exploit,” he said, though he also spoke of
opportunities stemming from the unrest.
For one thing, Ross pointed to
Arab regimes that have long blamed Israel for ills in the Middle East so as not
to have to focus on the very frustrations among their population that triggered
the current rebellions; a dynamic that would likely change.
to deflect the anger they knew existed in their own societies onto others – onto
the United States and onto Israel,” he said.
While so far the popular
demonstrations have focused very little attention on Israel and the
Palestinians, former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk warned that they
“This doesn’t mean they won’t come around to the Palestinian
issue,” said Indyk, who spoke at an ADL conference panel after Ross. “It’s not
that this cause isn’t important to the Palestinian state. It’s that they have
more important issues to deal with.”
He assessed that while the prospects
for a deal between Jerusalem and Damascus had dramatically shifted as a result
of the demonstrations – “the potential for making peace between Israel and Syria
[went] out the window” – he urged the Israelis and Palestinians to hold quiet
talks “while the rest of the Arab world isn’t watching.”
Though he said
the US would never allow the unilateral declaration of statehood to pass at the
UN, Israel’s diplomatic alliances were fraying nonetheless.
“Time is not
on Israel’s side,” he warned. “This would be a good time for the Israeli
leadership to take initiative.”
Elliott Abrams, a deputy national
security adviser in the George W. Bush administration who appeared alongside
Indyk, agreed that Israel should take action despite the uncertainty in the
While Abrams didn’t foresee much likelihood of a final-status
deal being reached with the Palestinians, he argued that Israel could still take
steps in the short term toward the goal of a two-state solution that would yield
“There is a very broad consensus in Israel that they need to
separate from the Palestinians,” he said. “I think that Israel would get a
tremendous amount of diplomatic credit if it took any steps toward the goal that
Two proposals by Abrams were that the Knesset pass a law to
compensate anyone living in far-flung settlements if they voluntarily moved
within the security fence line, and that Israel itself recognize a Palestinian
state, thereby undercutting the diplomatic momentum against Israel.
need to get past the notion that separating from the Palestinians is a favor for
the Palestinians,” he declared. “The Zionists did not create Israel by waiting
for the help of others.”
Following the panel, ADL National Director
Abraham Foxman said it would help make the case for Israel if the Netanyahu
government made a diplomatic initiative, given efforts to isolate Israel and
blame it for the impasse with the Palestinians.
“Ninety percent of
American Jews would want the prime minister to take some kind of initiative,” he
said, though he didn’t offer any specifics or indicate whether he felt the
Jewish community had a policy preference.
“Israel has to do it for
Israel’s sake,” Foxman said. “Part of Israel’s sake is the diplomatic