Diplomacy

Former Obama Adviser Dennis Ross: Israel Is “Pillar of Democracy and Stability” in Middle East

Dismissing concerns that ties between Israel and the United States are frayed, former adviser to President Barack Obama and veteran diplomat Dennis Ross said that the United States needs “one pillar of democracy and stability” in an increasingly chaotic Middle East, and Israel is that pillar, in an interview published Tuesday in The Times of Israel.

The impetus behind the interview was Ross’ recently published book, Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama, which provides an extensive history of American-Israeli relations.

One of the reasons for writing the book is to put everything in perspective, but also to draw the lessons from the past, to apply them to the next administration. Because so many of the assumptions are where we have always started off. This whole issue of distancing. I mean, it’s embedded in the psychology of every administration, at least a significant constituency of every administration, without really seeing the constant pattern that this is not what drives Arab behavior toward the United States.

In addition to discussing the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel, the interview covered the current wave of Palestinian terror. Ross, who said that the violence was not an “intifada” as it wasn’t centrally organized, also noted that it was a mistake to attribute it to Palestinian frustrations over settlements. He further argued that the failure to hold the Palestinians accountable for the violence was ultimately detrimental to their aspirations for statehood, because if “they are too weak to criticize, they are too weak to be held accountable, too weak to be responsible. They’re too weak to have a state. Well, if you want the Palestinians to have the responsibility of a state, you have to hold them responsible.”

In the interview, Ross, a former official in both the White House and the State Department, played down many of the public disputes between Israel and the Obama administration, attributing them mostly to misunderstandings. Ross said he expects that the upcoming meeting between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be an occasion to “mend fences.” Ross noted that the president will seek to make good on his promises to ensure that “the security arrangement is sacrosanct.”

In response to the final question of the interview- why Israel is a strategic asset for the United States and why Washington benefits from a close relationship with Jerusalem- Ross replied:

Because distancing the US from Israel has never achieved the objective of bringing the US closer to Arabs. Our relationship to Israel is not what drives their behavior toward us.

But the best case is to look at the region. The state system is under assault. The character of conflict is over the most fundamental thing it can be over – identity and who is going to be able to define it.

We need one pillar of democracy and stability in that region, given all the uncertainty, all the conflicts and the terrible nature of those conflicts, of the turmoil we are going to see. Israel is that one pillar.

[Photo: Uri Lenz / FLASH90  ]