Lately Obama has hired Dennis Ross to be his cicerone in the Middle East. This is disastrous, and one can only hope that it is a political shell game Obama is playing, to placate Jewish leadership while doing the right thing by the Palestinians. For Dennis Ross's remarkable staying power thru Republican and Democratic administrations demonstrates the strength of the lobby in our political life. Ross should have been history long ago...
Back in 1991 Ross was the main Middle East negotiator for George Bush when Bush tried to serve the American interest in the Middle East by putting a stop to the illegal settlements in the West Bank by placing conditions on loan guarantees the Israelis had sought from the U.S. to build housing for Russian immigrants. The Israelis assured Bush through Ross that they would accept the restrictions. Ross vouched for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to George Bush. Then Shamir continued building settlements, making Bush look like a fool. Ross was in the middle. He indicates in his book on the "peace process," The Missing Peace, that George Bush felt that Ross had misled him. You might think that a president who feels misled by an aide would fire the aide. You'd be wrong.
Bush needed Ross more than Ross needed Bush. In fact, the following year, 1992, Ross was out there campaigning for Bush in the Jewish community, telling them that it was Bush's "achievement" that the settlements had continued (Clayton Swisher reports in The Truth About Camp David). Bill Clinton also assured the Jewish community about the settlements in that election. Where is the American interest???
Then when Bush lost, a defeat he has apparently ascribed in part to Jewish opposition, Ross got hired by Bill Clinton as a kind of super-negotiator, a "non-Arabist" special negotiator within the State Department. Later Aaron David Miller would say that Ross's negotiating team, which was overwhelmingly Jewish, served as "Israel's lawyer" at the Camp David process that ended in failure, and intifadah.
Why did this man keep his job after he
had helped to undermine the president on an important foreign policy
initiative? Why did this man then get a bigger job from the next
president, who had beat his former boss of a different party? Why after failing that president is Ross now getting the nod from Obama? The
answer is that Ross has his own constituency that in some ways is more
powerful than the President: he has the trust of the Israelis and with
that the trust of the American Jewish leadership. Both Bush and Clinton
sought the loyalty that Ross commanded. Now Obama is doing the same.
P.S. The Prime Minister who kept building settlements, Shamir, is widely believed to be behind the 1948 murder of U.N. negotiator Folke Bernadotte. Shamir was a young terrorist, seeking a Greater Israel; Bernadotte was for an internationalized Jerusalem (as this Yale Press book by Bernard Wasserstein shows). A terrorist resume never hurt an Israeli politician in these parts. This is the heart of the American problem in Israel/Palestine: we have again and again been complicit with those who seek territorial expansion. J Street's recent poll of Jewish opinion, in which American Jews overwhelmingly say that Jerusalem must not be divided, demonstrates the problem. If the media would only begin to cover the politics of a divided Jerusalem, they might at last separate Barney Frank from Douglas Feith, Lester and James Crown from Sheldon Adelson. It is essential to the Jewish community, and to American politics, that Jews begin to gain some human awareness on this issue.