Smart people are saying that Dennis Ross's departure leaves Barack Obama naked to the Israel lobby. Here is the reasoning: Obama could always say, But I have Dennis Ross working on Middle East policy! He is a Zionist's Zionist, he has said that Israel is always right, he headed an Israeli institute against assimilation. Foxman called this man Israel's "advocate," and Palestinians agreed. Now he is gone! It is the opposite of losing George Mitchell or throwing Rashid Khalidi under the bus in 2008. Those were signals to the lobby that Obama wanted nothing to do with fairness. So Obama has lost political cover with the lobby, and as Elliott Abrams, a smart guy, points out, this will hurt him in the 2012 elections.
Ross’s departure is not a diplomatic problem for the White House; it is instead a problem for the Obama re-election campaign.
For Ross was the only official in whom most American Jewish leaders had confidence. As most of them are Democrats who have long accepted Ross’s faith in the “peace process,” they viewed his role as the assurance that a steady, experienced, pro-Israel hand was on or near the tiller. When the White House did something that clearly harmed U.S.-Israel relations (such as the recent Sarkozy-Obama exchange on how difficult it is to deal with Prime Minister Netanyahu, where Sarkozy called Netanyahu a liar and Obama appeared to agree), or made foolish demands of Israel (such as the 100% construction freeze), and when the tone of the relationship clearly became far worse than it had been under Clinton or Bush, Jewish leaders comforted themselves that Dennis was still there. He was the person to whom they reached out, or who reached out to them and comforted them; he explained that things were not so bad really and that the President really cared about all this and had the warmest concern about Israel.
No one else in this administration can now fill that role, as the President enters an election year with a powerful need to maintain the 78% support he had last time in the Jewish community.
...The dates the Quartet has suggested for the Israelis and Palestinians to move forward–territorial proposals in January, and a final agreement by the end of 2012–seem designed to get everyone through the Christmas/New Year’s holidays and the round of 2012 elections.
I don’t know why Mr. Ross is leaving and leaving now, but with the diplomatic situation that grim, who can blame him? And who can blame him if he has tired of being the facade of wonderful Obama-Israel relations behind which the actual political and diplomatic relationship steadily became colder and more distant.
Again: this is the reason that Obama kept Stuart Levey on, a high Treasury official dedicated to serving Israel's interests against Iran, on from the Bush administration. Levey was known inside the lobby to be a Zionist, a former student of Marty Peretz who had written about the Zionist dream. Obama was signalling that he was cognizant of this interest. Now Levey is gone, too.