Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Does Dennis Ross have a strong attachment to Israel? If so, might this situation be detrimental to the conduct of US Middle East policy?"

Stephen Walt responds to WINEP's Satloff in FP/ here
"... There are only two important issues here, and Satloff ignores both of them. First, do some top U.S. officials -- and here we are obviously talking about Dennis Ross -- have a strong attachment to Israel? Second, might this situation be detrimental to the conduct of U.S. Middle East policy?
Regarding the first question, there is abundant evidence that Ross has a strong -- some might even say ardent -- attachment to Israel. These feelings are clearly on display in his memoir of the Oslo peace process, and they are confirmed by his decision to accept a top position at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy (WINEP) -- an influential organization in the Israel lobby-upon leaving government service in 2000. As Middle East historian Avi Shlaim put it in his own review of Ross's book:

Ross belongs fairly and squarely in the pro-Israel camp. His premises, position on the Middle East and policy preferences are identical to those of the Israel-first school. Indeed, it is difficult to think of an American official who is more quintessentially Israel-first in his outlook than Dennis Ross."

Furthermore, Ross served in recent years as chairman of the board of the Jewish People's Policy Planning Institute, a think-tank established by the Jewish Agency, which is headquartered in Jerusalem. Satloff does not mention this key fact, but the implications are unmistakable. Why would anyone take such a job if they did not have a deep-seated commitment to Israel?

There is nothing wrong with Ross (or any other American) working for WINEP or chairing the board of an organization like JPPPI. As I've emphasized in my previous writings on this topic, I also see nothing wrong with Ross or Satloff, or anyone else for that matter, working to promote America's "special relationship" with Israel. The same is true for those individuals who support the Cuban-American National Foundation, the American Farm Bureau, the National Rifle Association, or the Indian-American Center for Political Awareness (IACPA). Others may disagree with the policies that these interest groups push, but so be it; that's how the American political system works. Thus, Satloff's claim that I am engaged in some sort of McCarthyite witch-hunt is false.

This brings us to the second question: While all Americans certainly have the right to hold different attachments and to express them openly, is it a good idea for someone with a strong attachment to a foreign country -- in this case, Israel -- to be given responsibility for making and executing U.S. Middle East policy?

I believe the answer is no, and that there is ample evidence in the historical record to supports my position. For example, in 1993, the Oslo Accords handed the Clinton administration a golden opportunity to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a close. The PLO had finally recognized Israel's right to exist, the Rabin government was genuinely interested in making a deal with the Palestinians, and the Oslo framework had laid out a path to end the conflict. U.S. Middle East policy at the time was guided by Ross and a number of other individuals who had strong attachments to Israel.

What happened over the next seven years? As Ross's deputy Aaron David Miller later recalled, the United States acted not as an evenhanded mediator, but as "Israel's lawyer." The result was a "peace process" during which Israel confiscated another 40,000 acres of land in the Occupied Territories, built 250 miles of bypass and connector roads, added 30 new settlements, and doubled the settler population, with hardly a peep from Washington. The denouement was the ill-fated Camp David summit in July 2000, a hastily arranged and poorly managed attempt to browbeat the Palestinians into accepting a one-sided deal. It is telling that former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, a participant at Camp David, later admitted that "if I were a Palestinian, I would have rejected Camp David, as well."

Of course, the Israelis and the Palestinians also contributed significantly to Oslo's failure. My point, however, is that American interests -- and the cause of peace more generally -- would have been better served by a more balanced team. Nor is that just my view: other recent studies of the peace process have reached similar conclusions.

One might say much the same about the handling of the peace process under President George W. Bush, who assigned Elliott Abrams a critically important role in making his administration's Middle East policy. Abrams's zealous attachment to Israel is beyond dispute, and Bush ended up adopting policies that not only failed to move the peace process forward, but led to further Israeli colonization of the Occupied Territories and helped provoke the Palestinians into a counterproductive war with each other. Moreover, the United States ended up backing Israel to the hilt in its disastrous wars in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008-2009. All of which suggests that it is a bad idea to assign top officials to work on issues affecting countries for which they have demonstrably strong attachments. (more/ here)

1 comment:

William deB. Mills said...

Walt's eloquent self-defense against the Israeli lobby's propaganda speaks for itself, but still, the distinction between "Israel" and the "Israeli right wing faction" currently running the government there cannot be underscored too often in an American context that consistently confuses the two.

There will never be an accurate and thoughtful debate over US policy toward Israel until Americans learn to keep this distinction in mind. It is, needless to say, a distinction the Israeli lobby's core elements (e.g., AIPAC, not J Street) do everything they can to obscure.

A discussion about American support for colonialism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing by the Israeli right is utterly distinct from a discussion about providing security for Israeli society. And I trust it goes without saying that a discussion about the degree to which support for the security of Israelis, Palestinians, or any other group might be consistent with U.S. national security is yet a third topic.

If we could all learn to distinguish such different topics more clearly, then it would be much easier to pierce through the obfuscation of those foreign factions, like the Israeli right, who pretend to represent the interests of their people.