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It’s been three days since Dennis Ross, the Israel lobby stalwart in the White House, announced his resignation, and what his departure means remains unclear. What, if any, are the implications of Ross’ departure on the moribund “peace process” and the steady drumbeat of an attack on Iran?
Issandr El Amrani at the Arabist blog recently raised some good questions:
* Why did Ross make the announcement at a gathering of Jewish leaders? Is it linked to the recent comments by Obama and Sarkozy about Netanyahu? Ross was often said to be, among other things, a key liaison to the lobby writ large — in a sense, their man inside the White House of a president that Zionists never fully trusted.
* As a corollary: does this mean that major Jewish organizations are likely to dump Obama for re-election? This is what Elliott Abrams suggests (perhaps wishful thinking on his part, and not representative in any case of the wider average Jewish-American electorate which remains pretty Democratic and mostly concerned about other issues than Israel — even if the major Jewish organizations have significant fundraising clout).
* Is it linked to Obama’s Iran policy, including his reluctance to beat the war drums? Ross was supposed to be the key pointman on Iran — was he pushed out of that role or frustrated because he could not get his way?
* Is it simply that with the peace process going nowhere (Ross having made sure of that), he is no longer needed or no longer feels useful?
* Is it that, ahead of the presidential election, the Obama administration will not engage in any major new initiatives, and thus Ross feels like he would be twiddling his thumbs waiting for an uncertain second term?
* Or maybe it’s just the promise to his wife — but if so, how come we didn’t know earlier than he would leave in December 2011?
No one but the Obama administration knows the answers to these questions. But other experts have weighed in, and have offered interesting takes.
Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, told reporters last Friday that the departure of Ross will have no effect on Israel/Palestine. Levy said the departure may have more implications for the debate over Iran:
I worry…[that] Dennis Ross leaving now and on the same day of making the announcement of rejoining the Washington Institute for Near East Policy…[sends a signal] to a part of that pro-Israel community, a signifigant part of that pro-Israel community in the United States, that all is not well with Iran policy, and that more external pressure [is necessary].
John Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, had a slightly different take in an e-mail:
My sense is that Ross’s departure will have little effect on either the peace process or the likelihood of an attack on Iran. Ross is just one small cog in the lobby machine, which will continue to make Israel’s case in effective ways with or without him in the White House. The lobby does not need Ross’s departure to understand that it is in not making much headway on getting Obama to attack Iran.
The verdict is still out on Ross’s departure.