Secret Ross visit paved way for renewed US-Israel talks

Increased role of top White House aide fuels speculation that he will replace Mitchell as US envoy to Middle East.

Dennis Ross 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Dennis Ross 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
Top White House aide Dennis Ross visited Israel secretly at the end of last week, paving the way for meetings administration officials are scheduled to have this week in Washington with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho.
A statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office earlier this week said that a Palestinian official would also be traveling to Washington for talks, but this was not confirmed by the Palestinians.
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Ross’s trip here, coupled with a Prime Minister’s Office statement about Molcho’s visit that called Ross the “American envoy to the Middle East,” fueled some speculation that he was replacing George Mitchell in that role. Israeli diplomatic officials, however, said there was no indication that this was the case, and that referring to Ross as the Middle East envoy was merely an error in wording.
A US official also denied that there had been any change in Mitchell’s status or role, saying he was due back in the region in the near future.
Ross’s under-the-radar visit to Israel was his second in three weeks.
Meanwhile, Molcho may meet during his visit with Bill Daley, the man US President Barack Obama tabbed as his new chief of staff, replacing Rahm Emanuel.
Ben Smith, writing on the Politico website, reported over the weekend that Daley and Netanyahu sparred in 1998, when the former served as then-president Bill Clinton’s commerce secretary.
According to the report, Daley said after giving a speech at the Brookings Institute in 1998 that Netanyahu was less interested in peace than his people.
“Every poll we’ve seen, every poll that has been reported about the people of Israel [is] overwhelmingly in favor of the peace process moving forward,” he said. “Generally governments end up reflecting their people. It may take some elections to do that, but that generally happens... And hopefully that the people of Israel, again, who overwhelmingly are supportive of peace will make their voices heard a little louder to the political establishment.”
Netanyahu responded at the time by saying he expected an apology for what seemed like meddling in internal Israeli politics.
According to the Politico report, Netanyahu said, “I don’t know whether he said the things that he hinted at or called for changes in the Israeli government. If he said these things, they’re grave remarks which are unacceptable to us.”
He added that “if these things were indeed said, I expect an apology and unequivocal correction of the comments.”
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the report on Monday.
It should be noted that Ross – who worked as the US Middle East envoy in the 1990s when Netanyahu was serving his first stint as prime minister – had a number of unflattering passages about Netanyahu in his book The Missing Peace, but this has not prevented him from becoming a trusted White House conduit to the prime minister.