WASHINGTON – Dennis Ross, formerly President Obama's senior adviser on Middle East policy and Iran warned Israel and the Palestinians – as well as Washington – against the prolonged stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying that negotiations must not be postponed until after the January elections.
In a special interview with Ynet Ross, a veteran diplomat who served as the US' special envoy to the Middle East during the Clinton Administration, expressed great concern over the paralysis plaguing the peace process.
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"There is no (peace) process right now. That's a fact. The fact is that there are no negotiations and no meaningful discussions," he said.
"The question is, what do you do to restore faith. For me the issue is not a lose of confidence, but a lose of belief on both sides. The Israeli public doesn't believe that the Palestinians are committed to the two-state solution and the Palestinians don't believe that Israel is committed to two states."
Ross said that in his opinion, restoring faith in the peace process should be the main focus for both parties, at this point.
Ross with Defense Minister Barak (Photo: Defense Ministry)
"I think there should be preliminary negotiations, but I also think that if you can't handle the issue of disbelief, than I can't see how you can overcome the obstacles that you face right now. The disbelief adds to the deterioration and it feeds itself. It's difficult even to explore if something could be done differently. We should break these dynamics."
Ross refuses to accept that the window of opportunity to strike peace between Israel and the PA may have already closed.
"I don't accept that premise for a simple reason: I don't see what the alternative is," he said, adding that Israel cannot "make the Palestinians go away" any more than the Palestinians can do so vis-à-vis Israel.
"You have a demographic clock that's ticking. Look at the numbers. There are 1.4-1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, 2.5-2.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank, and the number of Israel-Arabs is 1.3 million. Add it up and compare it to around 7 million Israeli Jews.
"Look at the birth rate. If Israel is to retain its character as a Jewish state, as the home to the Jewish people, what does it mean if the Jewish majority will erode over time? At some point it could become a minority. The Zionists dream was to have Israel as a Jewish Democratic state," he said, adding that one should consider the possibility of a Jewish majority of 55%-45%.
'Israel not an Apartheid state'
The veteran diplomat also addressed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' accusations at the UN, slamming Israel as an "Apartheid state."
"Israel is not an Apartheid state," he stressed. "Apartheid is an ideology (by which) a very small minority rules systematically, eliminating all forms of walks of life. It's wrong," he said, referring to Abbas' accusation that Israel is pursuing the "ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians."
Faced with Abbas' accusations and Gaza's rocket salvos, the Israeli public is veering right in its politics; but Ross said that national interests must prevail.
"The question is what's in Israel's best interest. When the prime minister gave a speech last June he said that peace with the PA was not a favor to the Palestinians – it's a national interest. He also said that Israel will not become a binational state – these are Israel interests.
"You can't make peace by yourself – that's a fact," Ross continued. "And I don't want to see Israel driven to more unilateral steps because unilateralism drives more unilateralism."
Ross with the Palestinian leadership (Photo: EPA)
"But I think it does make sense to see what you can do with the other side; and it also makes sense to see what you can do to maintain the moral high-ground. This is an Israeli interest, as it positions itself internationally, and it's an Israeli Interest for its future."
Man with a plan
So what can be done? "I don't know what is possible. I have my own suggestions about how to change the dynamic," Ross said.
"I came up with 16 points – that's an agenda for talking. When the sides are meeting now they talk past each other, so they need an agenda for discussion.
"When your public does not believe, you address your public, not the other side," he added. "You have to start, right now, to establish belief. It's not confidence. People lose faith. Confidence is something that you can restore – faith you have to build."
The Palestinians "see themselves as victims," he continued, "And the Israelis see themselves as giving and never getting. You have to deal with both those perceptions. And if you don't it's difficult to see how anything can be done."
According to the former Obama adviser, the American president "Is willing to do something if he thinks something can be done… but he is looking at Iran, looking at Syria, looking at Egypt – all demand great effort.
"There are other things more pressing from one end, not to mention the fiscal cliff here, and nothing you can do right now. So wait and see, we have to wait for an Israeli government to emerge."
Ross stressed that peace efforts must be pursued by both parties: "Abu-Mazen has said that after the UN he will go back to negotiations without preconditions because now he has a new status.
"The prime minister of Israel said that he's prepared to talk any time without preconditions, so I would say now is the time for both sides to agree to come back to the table, rather then wait for a further deterioration.
"So let's resume the talks and in the meantime, don't take any steps the will make it more difficult, this will at least prevent a further," he concluded.
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