An Israeli initiative to build only in settlements on the inside of the security fence would both blunt efforts to internationalize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and get relations with the next American president off on a different footing, Dennis Ross said Sunday.
Ross, who dealt with Middle East issues under George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said at a press conference at the Jerusalem Press Club that Israel should make its settlement policy consistent with its declaration of support for a two-state solution.
A policy of building inside the settlement blocs, but not in the 92 percent of territory outside the fence, would “preempt international moves that most Israelis see will not take into account Israel’s interests,” and also will help defang the BDS movement, he said.
Ross, co-chairman of the Jewish People Policy Institute, came to the press conference after briefing the cabinet on the JPPI’s 12th annual Assessment of the Situation and Dynamics of the Jewish People.
At the cabinet meeting, Ross said: “As the Palestinians seek to internationalize the conflict with Israel – and as Israel fails to make its case to the Europeans and others – the threat of delegitimizing the Jewish state is growing on the international stage.
BDS is about ending Israel’s existence not its occupation of Palestinians. But because BDS focuses on occupation and Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, it disguises its real objective. So long as Israel’s settlement activity does not appear consistent with a two-state outcome, Israel will find it difficult to blunt the delegitimization movement.”
At the press conference, Ross, who in diplomatic understatement described the relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama as having “left something to be desired,” said another benefit of such a policy would be that it would get Israel’s relationship with the next president – whoever that might be – on a different footing.
This type of initiative would give the next administration “something to work with” in trying to push back against efforts – such as the French diplomatic initiative – to internationalize the conflict. The French initiative calls for an international conference at the end of the year, a period Ross said was not chosen randomly, but rather because it will be during the interregnum between the US elections and the swearing in of the next president.
“You can’t beat something with nothing,” Ross said, adding that it is expecting too much to believe the next administration could fight against the various international initiatives without Israel giving it something to work with.
Regarding the upcoming US elections, Ross said, when asked to evaluate how he thought the presumptive nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would act toward Israel, that the question that needed to be asked was what role each candidate envisioned for the US in the world.
Do not ask the question about what each candidate is saying now about the Israel- US relationship, Ross said, “but what is each candidate’s view of America’s relationship in the world, what is each candidate’s view on whether the US needs to remain engaged in the Middle East. How does each candidate look at alliances on the international stage, and whether they are important or not.”
In other words, he said, ask whether the candidate is in favor of an “internationalist America” that is engaged in the Middle East and “understands that if there is a vacuum in the Middle East it gets filled by the worst possible forces, as we’ve seen.”
Though very diplomatic in not wanting to blatantly come out in favor of one candidate or the other, Ross said he believes Clinton “is more of an internationalist than Donald Trump is,” though he noted that Trump has not “fully articulated his ideas” on these issues, and they may still evolve.
Yet, he said, given the kinds of things the Republican candidate has said about NATO, Japan and South Korea, and his “lack of enthusiasm” for alliances, “I think those raise legitimate questions, and are questions that should be posed.”
Asked how he thought a potential Clinton presidency would differ from the Obama one on Israel, Ross said he believes Clinton’s instinct would be like those of her husband Bill Clinton, who strove to keep differences between Jerusalem and Washington in private, concerned that airing them in public would create an impression of a gap between the two countries that would encourage Israel’s enemies, reduce Israel’s deterrence and make negotiating peace more difficult.
Obama’s instincts have been very strong on Israel’s security needs, Ross said, but he has shown no hesitancy in distancing himself from Israel, believing that by doing so he would gain from the Arabs.