'US firmly opposed to PA seeking statehood in UN'

Top White House ME adviser Dennis Ross tells ADL conference that negotiations the only way to produce a Palestinian state.

dennis ross_311 reuters (photo credit: Gary Cameron / Reuters)
dennis ross_311 reuters
(photo credit: Gary Cameron / Reuters)
WASHINGTON – The US is firmly opposed to Palestinians pursuing a unilateral declaration of statehood through the UN, the top White House Middle East adviser said Monday.
“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.
“It’s important 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 viable.”
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 nuclear weapon.
“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.
“They sought 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 could.
“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 region.
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 dividends.
“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 it seeks.”
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.
“We 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 atmosphere.”