The New York Times reports: “Dennis B. Ross, a seasoned diplomat who has been one of President Obama’s most influential advisers on Iran, the Middle East peace process and the political upheaval in the Arab world, will leave the White House in December, a senior administration official said on Thursday.”
With unintended hilarity, the Times observes:
Mr. Ross’s departure, the official said, was not a result of disputes over policy. He was involved in devising Mr. Obama’s most recent proposal to revive the negotiations, under which the Israelis and Palestinians would use the prevailing borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war as a starting point, and adjust them to account for Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
In other words, Ross and Obama were perfectly simpatico on the most ill-conceived and counterproductive approach to the Palestinian-Israei conflict by any administration. To the extent that they ambushed the prime minister of Israel with a new policy buried in an Arab Spring speech, there was Ross.
Actually, there is a good argument that Ross should have been canned when this obviously self-serving story was offered up to the Times in May:
By almost all accounts, Dennis B. Ross — Middle East envoy to three presidents, well-known architect of incremental and painstaking diplomacy in the Middle East that eschews game-changing plays — is Israel’s friend in the Obama White House and one of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in town.
His strategy sometimes contrasts sharply with that of a president who has bold instincts and a willingness to elevate the plight of the Palestinians to a status equal to that of the Israelis.
But now, as the president is embarking on a course that, once again, puts him at odds with Israel’s conservative prime minister, the question is how much of a split the president is willing to make not only with the Israeli leader, but with his own hand-picked Middle East adviser.
In other words, Ross whispers to his dismayed fellow Democrats, “Not my fault!” In case there were doubters, Ross, er . . . the Times tells readers, “During the administration’s debates over the past several months, Mr. Ross made clear that he was opposed to having Mr. Obama push Israel by putting forth a comprehensive American plan for a peace deal with the Palestinians, according to officials involved in the debate.” Nothing like disloyalty above-the-fold.
One wondered at times how Ross justified his tenure. (“Well, Obama would have been worse without me”?) His principal function at times appeared to be no more than assuring the American Jewish community that Obama had Israel’s best interests at heart.
Former deputy national security advisor for President George W. Bush, Elliott Abrams, told me: “Dennis Ross was a reassuring presence for lots of American Jewish leaders who were very uneasy about Obama Middle East policy. No matter what the President said or did, they would always say well, but Dennis is there, Dennis says it’s OK, Dennis this and Dennis that. He was a facade behind which the political and diplomatic distance between the United States and Israel grew.” Going forward there will be no Dennis, of course. Abrams continued,“Now that facade will be removed, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that Ross tired of that role and tired of defending a president whose feelings about Israel were as cold as Ross’s are warm. This is going to hurt the White House in the Jewish community, because they have no substitute for Ross and no one with his credibility with most Jewish organizations.”
And yet, dispite those warm feelings, Ross served a president that bullied and badgered the Jewish state and insulted its democratically elected prime minister. And yet Ross was there when Obama let Iran’s Green Movement come and go. And yet Ross was there when settlements became the end-all-and-be-all of the “peace process.” In his defense, some would say, none of this was his idea; Obama was running the show. Quite possibly, but then what was Ross’s contribution?
The shame of it is that this was an experienced Middle East hand who knew better. He co-wrote a book debunking linkage between the “peace process” and confronting Iran. He was at Camp David with President Clinton when it was apparent that the Palestinians’ rejectionism, not any settlement activity, was the barrier to peace. In seeking one more round in the White House, a capstone to his long career, Ross was taking a gamble that his last chapter of public service would be a success and that he might be the one to finally unlock the secret of peace in the Middle East.
Instead he was part of the most inept Middle East team ever assembled. He served a president whose disdain for Israel could not be concealed. Not exactly what he had in mind, I bet.