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Ehud Barak and Dennis Ross.
News and Opinion

Dennis Ross On Prospects For Peace.

-- Bruce S. Ticker

Here is the take-way from Ambassador Dennis Ross's speech at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia on November 9, 2007: Diplomatic solutions to end the conflicts in Iraq and Israel's territories are possible, but not Team Bush's way.

Referring to Iraq, Ross told an estimated audience of 300 at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Center City, "The (Bush) administration shaped its assessment with faith-based assessments instead of reality-based assessments. We should see political bridge-building, but we are seeing barrier-building."

The former Middle East envoy under President Clinton and the first President Bush outlined proposals to gradually resolve both conflicts, with American military withdrawals from Iraq taking 10 to 15 years.

Ross urged applying economic "leverage" in each province of Iraq where sectarian conflicts exist during his November 9 address. If all forces in a given province cooperate, the United States "will withdraw where you want us to." This will include providing "military means," he added. Those who refuse must contend with a continued foreign military presence.

Iraq's central government must also convene a meaningful "reconciliation conference" of all national parties and all neighboring nations including Iran must reach agreements, including Iran, he suggested, adding, "Every one of Iraq's neighbors will be fearful of a vacuum."

Ross cautioned that he does not know if diplomacy will work at this stage, but the alternatives are that America remains and divides the country or the competing forces "will fight long enough until they have paid a high enough price."

His advice for Israelis and Arabs is to focus on the economy and cooperation among Israeli and Palestinian Authority security forces, and agree to principles that are achievable.

Ambassador Dennis Ross speaking at Emory University.

This is the wrong time for a peace summit, as the Bush administration has planned for Annapolis, because "they have a basic gap in terms of what each side believes," Ross said. He emphasized that 40 percent of West Bank inhabitants are unemployed and Israelis are still vulnerable to terrorism, so the vast majority do not expect any accomplishments in Annapolis.

Ross contended that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also miscalculated in calling the summit because of her assessment "that fear of Iran is shared. You have to bring it to a finer point of analysis."

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are working at cross-purposes with Saudi Arabia because the Saudis only seek to wrest Hamas from Iran's grip, he said. The Saudis view the conflict through "a Sunni/Shiite lens" because Hamas members are Sunni Muslims and Iran's rulers are Shiites. Both Israel and the authority are intent on "isolating" Hamas, the terrorist group which seized control of Gaza last June and tolerates attacks on Sderot and other Israeli border towns, he added.

Ross admitted that the Clinton administration - and himself personally - mishandled the 2000 summit when the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected Israel's offer of an independent Palestinian state, which was "contiguous." He recalled that Arafat's people told him that he was amenable to a settlement.

"I should have created a better test. They had to publicly say they would not get 100 percent of what they want," he said of Arafat and then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Since Arafat would never have gone along with that, the parties would be left to working on interim steps, he noted.

Ross's approach to Iraq and Israel amount to the concept of "statecraft," which is simply the skill to establish clear objectives and find the means to achieve it. It is the focus of his new book, Statecraft: And How to Restore America’s Standing in the World, which is what brought him to Rodeph Shalom as part of a book tour.

"I want you to imagine that we have an administration that is good at diplomacy, good at coercion and good at economic leverage," he said. "When it identifies an objective, everyone thinks it is a good objective. There are people who know how to do it. They are just not in this administration."

Ross said he hopes that his book will re-establish statecraft as a concept and spur the presidential candidates "to talk about statecraft." He neglected to mention that he has been touted as a possible secretary of state should Sen. Hillary Clinton or another Democrat be elected president next year.

As for President Bush's plans for Iraq, Ross said, "The administration’s objective is to turn it over to the next administration."

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