'2013 to be decisive year for Obama foreign policy'

At J'lem conference, Ambassador Dennis Ross says Israel, US likely to converge on issues of Iran, Syria and "Arab Awakening."

Dennis Ross 370 (photo credit: Brett Weinstein / Wikimedia Commons (CC))
Dennis Ross 370
(photo credit: Brett Weinstein / Wikimedia Commons (CC))
The year 2013 is going to be a decisive one for the second Obama administration, Ambassador Dennis Ross, a counselor at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in Jerusalem on Thursday.
Speaking at a joint conference of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Ross forecast that the three priorities of the Obama administration in convergence with Israel would be Iran, Syria and what he termed the “Arab Awakening” – as distinct from the Arab Spring.
The potential point of divergence from Israel would be the Palestinian issue, he said.
With regard to Iran, Ross was hopeful that the problem of nuclearization could be settled diplomatically.
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On Syria, Ross warned that the conflict there could easily radiate outside, which he noted is already happening.
Ross stated that Arab Awakening is enabling people to see themselves as citizens with a voice, instead of subjects on whom the regime imposes its views.
Ross also urged Israel to change the dynamic vis-a-vis the Palestinians since at the moment there is a “dynamic of disbelief on both sides,” he said.
In an attempt to bring both sides back to the negotiating table, Ross proposed an agenda for discussion and suggested that topics on the Israeli side include:
• Compensation for any settler who leaves;
• Cessation of construction in areas that will be part of the Palestinian State;
• Construction only in areas that will be part of Israel;
• Opening up Area C for Palestinian economic activity;
• Expanding the scope of Palestinian security responsibility in Area B; and
• Giving Palestinians more civil and security responsibility in Area A, and keeping Israeli soldiers out of those areas as much as possible.
For the Palestinian agenda Ross suggested:
• Putting Israel on the map, because Israel cannot be found in any Palestinian text book;
• Start talking about two states for two peoples;
• Stop incitement and do not name squares and parks for those who killed Israelis; and
• Prepare your public for peace.
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Ross recalled that former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat used to speak of the Peace of the Brave because both sides will have to make hard decisions.
He also suggested that Palestinians evacuate their refugee camps, rebuild the areas and let the people who live there move back to proper housing.
It is also essential for Palestinians to build a rule of law to send a message to Israel about the kind of neighbor that Palestine will be, said Ross. He also urged Israelis and Palestinians to bring together their children from third grade onward.
“You have two societies living close to each other who may as well be living on different sides of the moon,” he said.
The disbelief on both sides was confirmed by pollster Mina Tzemach, who quoted from surveys taken at the end of November after both the US elections and Operation Pillar of Defense. It was at such a low ebb, and so consensual, she said, that there was no point in classifying responses in accordance with age, gender, ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic status.
Another aspect of the conference was on the souring of relations between Israel and Europe as well as Israel and the US, as an outcome of the Jewish state’s decision to advance construction in E1 and the West Bank.
Itamar Rabinovich, a former ambassador to the US, opined that tensions would continue until after the Knesset elections and the formation of a new government, because these disputes serve the interests of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his election campaign and resonate with rightwing voters.
Zalman Shoval, who has twice served as ambassador to the US, was confident that common interests between Israel, the US and Europe would override any disagreements.
He could not foresee an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but envisaged that there would be crisis management in the years ahead.
Hebrew University Prof. Shlomo Avineri, a former directorgeneral of the Foreign Ministry, made the distinction between security and ideology. The whole world saw Israel’s brutal operation in Gaza, which did not enhance Israel’s image, he said, but Israel’s actions were supported by Europe and the US because they understood that it was a matter of security.
However, he continued, building in Jerusalem and the West Bank is not a security matter but is a matter of ideology – and something that neither Europe nor the US are prepared to condone.
When asked by moderator Nadav Eyal, the foreign news editor at Channel 10, what advice they would give to the incoming prime minister, all three were in agreement – to mend fences with Turkey.
But before that, they said, the prime minister has to go to Washington to solidify relations with Obama.