Dennis Ross: If Elected, Clinton Should Seek More Israeli Concessions
JNS.org – If Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton wins the US presidential elections, her administration ought to launch a backdoor initiative to force changes in Israeli policy, said former Clinton adviser Dennis Ross on Thursday.
During a panel discussion at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, Ross said the public disputes between Israel and the Obama administration were counter-productive, which is why he thinks future involvement in the region by a President Hillary Clinton would ideally not be undertaken as a “big public initiative,” but as “efforts behind the scenes.”
Ross also proposed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be taking steps toward peace, “even though negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (PA) won’t work now.” Ross claimed that Netanyahu “does not want to make the difficult choice between his domestic interests and what the international community expects.”
Ross took particular issue with the existence and expansion of Israeli settlements in Judea-Samaria and the Jordan Valley, saying “[Netanyahu] should, at a minimum, announce an official policy that there will be no further Israeli construction east of the security barrier.”
Such unilateral concessions would be consistent with “the traditional Zionist way of shaping your own destiny,” according to Ross. He continued to say that “if you could create the circumstances that would force [Netanyahu] to make that historic choice, I think he would.”
Twice, the former ambassador said Israelis need to realize “they can’t get [peace] on the cheap.”
Notwithstanding the current strained relations between Israel and America, Ross — who served as President Bill Clinton’s special envoy to the Middle East — insisted that President Obama “considers himself a genuine friend of Israel — the kind of friend who doesn’t let his friend drive drunk.”
The former ambassador’s comments provoked a strong response from fellow panelist Elliott Abrams, who acted as assistant secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan and served as President George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser.
Abrams asserted that senior White House aides traditionally step in to patch relations when the president does not get along with a foreign leader, but, during the Obama administration, “the White House staff has made things worse” when it comes to Netanyahu.
Abrams singled out National Security Adviser Susan Rice for having harmed the US-Israel relationship, recalling last year’s incident in which an unnamed White House official used an obscenity in characterizing Netanyahu, but “was never punished for that ugly remark.” Abrams said, “If the president and his national security adviser wanted such talk to stop, it would have.”
In response, Ross claimed that “things like that didn’t happen under Tom Donilon,” Rice’s predecessor. However, several audience members pointed out that there were a number of gaffes during Donilon’s term, including Obama’s open-mic moment in 2011, when he bemoaned to then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy that he “has to deal with [Netanyahu] every day,” and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s assertion at the 2012 Saban Forum that Israel has a “lack of empathy” for “the pain of an oppressed people,” referring to the Palestinians.
Ross also seemed to hold the Israeli government responsible for some of the difficulties in enforcing the terms of the Iranian nuclear agreement, saying, “More could have been accomplished if Netanyahu had pressed for the creation of a Joint Implementation Committee, as I proposed.”
Israeli historian Benny Morris and former Haaretz correspondent Natasha Mozgovaya also took part in the panel, which was moderated by Robert J. Lieber, a Georgetown University professor of government and international affairs.