William Quandt, a National Security Council staffer in the NSC’s Middle East office during the Nixon and Carter administrations, has an article up at Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel downplaying any hopes that the Obama administration is serious about pushing for a solution in Israel/Palestine. Quandt writes, “My own reading of this administration is that it really has not yet made up its mind what to do about Israel, the Palestinians and Syria–and this far into a new administration, that is reason for concern.”
Although much has been made of President Obama’s statement that Middle East peace is a “vital national security interest” for the U.S., Quandt devotes more attention to another Obama statement with worrisome implications:
“The truth is, in some of these conflicts the United States can’t impose solutions unless the participants in these conflicts are willing to break out of old patterns of antagonism. I think it was former Secretary of State Jim Baker who said, in the context of Middle East peace, we can’t want it more than they do.”
The notion that the United States can’t want peace more than the Israelis and Palestinians want it is, as Quandt points out, a relic of the Clinton and second Bush administration’s approach to Israel/Palestine, and not Baker’s view. It’s also a view that Dennis Ross has pushed hard, with tragic consequences for the Palestinians. The question we should be asking is why Ross has such a prominent role in Obama’s strategy for dealing with the Middle East, a role that is very detrimental. Ross, as Laura Rozen at Politico reported in late March, is still very much involved in crafting the administration’s approach to Israel, and is reportedly “more sensitive to Netanyahu’s coalition politics than to U.S. interests.”
The Wall Street Journal adds onto the story in a big way, really showing how happy Netanyahu and the Israel lobby must be to have Ross inside Obama’s team:
U.S. officials said Mr. Netanyahu’s government has been communicating much of its position through the White House’s senior Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, at times bypassing special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell. That decision has been interpreted by some in the administration as an attempt to sideline Mr. Mitchell in favor of Mr. Ross, who has advocated U.S. cooperation with Mr. Netanyahu, rather than confrontation. Mr. Ross has publicly taken positions in line with Mr. Netanyahu’s government, particularly the centrality of stopping Iran’s nuclear program as a means to underpin Mideast peace efforts.
The comment from Obama that repeats Ross’ view that the U.S. can’t want peace more than Israel and the Palestinians may seem “neutral” on the surface, but it really isn’t. As Helena Cobban has wrote:
That argument has been used as a major justification for a diplomatic quietism that has been a cover, actually, for continued, very generous US financial and military help to Israel that has completely underwritten Israel’s pursuit of its illegal policy of land-grabbing settlement-building in the West Bank and Golan and its very destructive launching of periodic wars, assassination campaigns, and other acts of lethal physical violence against its neighbors.
Ross is a major player in the Israel lobby, and if Obama is listening to him, as he seems to be, than we know for sure that Obama is not going to change a damn thing when it comes to U.S. policy towards Israel. Rahm Emanuel seemed to confirm that the Obama administration is intently listening to Ross when he told Charlie Rose that there are no plans for a U.S. peace proposal to be placed on the table (I’m leaving aside the fact that, if as reported Obama would be proposing a settlement based on the “Clinton Parameters,” it would mean discarding Palestinian rights. But that’s a separate issue.)
It’s no wonder that the Palestinians have lost faith in Barack Obama. There’s no “change we can believe in” on this issue, as well as on many other foreign policy issues.