Dennis Ross: ‘It’s time to stop giving the Palestinians a pass’, ‘Europe must push Abbas to make compromises for peace’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US envoy Dennis Ross, and Palestinian Authority president Yasser ArafatPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US envoy Dennis Ross, and Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat

“It’s time to stop giving the Palestinians a pass. It is time to make it costly for them to focus on symbols rather than substance,” writes Dennis Ross, a former US chief negotiator on Arab-Israeli issues, in an op-ed published Monday in the New York Times.

The international community should pressure the Palestinians o accept the compromises with Israel that are necessary for statehood, he says, calling in particular on the European leaders “who fervently support Palestinian statehood ” to “focus on how to raise the cost of saying no or not acting at all when there is an offer on the table, rather than backing the Palestinians as they seek to avoid mutual concessions with their UN and ICC gambits.”

The former Mideast advisor to US President Barack Obama deplores that “most Europeans are focused far more on Israeli behaviour and want, at a minimum, to see Israel’s continuing settlement policy change.”

“Palestinians care deeply about international support for their cause. If they knew they would be held accountable for being nonresponsive or rejecting a fair offer or resolution, it could well change their calculus.”

Ross noted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s latest efforts to pressure Israel via the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court will nothing to alter the reality on the ground, and blamed the Palestinians for dooming three previous efforts to resolve the conflict through negotiation. The Palestinians need to “respond to proposals and accept resolutions that address Israeli needs and not just their own,” he argued.

“Turning to the United Nations or the International Criminal Court during an Israeli election is counter-productive. It will be seen in Israel as a one-sided approach , and it will strengthen politicians who prefer the status quo,” he writes.

He recalls that “since 2000, there have been three serious negotiations that culminated in offers to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Bill Clinton’s parameters in 2000, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts last year.”

On each occasion, Ross wrote, “a proposal on all the core issues was made to Palestinian leaders and the answer was either ‘no’ or no response. They determined that the cost of saying ‘yes’, or even of making a counteroffer that required concessions, was too high.”

Unfortunately, Ross elaborated, “Palestinian political culture is rooted in a narrative of injustice; its anticolonialist bent and its deep sense of grievance treats concessions to Israel as illegitimate. Compromise is portrayed as betrayal…”

Ross, who is today a counsellor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, believes that “if the elections produce an Israeli leadership that is prepared to take a peace initiative and build settlements only on land that is likely to be part of Israel and not part of Palestine, there will be no need for a United Nations resolution.”

“But if not, and if the Europeans then opt to return to the UN route, any resolution they back “must be balanced,” he emphasized. “It cannot simply address Palestinian needs by offering borders based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps and a capital in Arab East Jerusalem without offering something equally specific to Israel — namely, security arrangements that leave Israel able to defend itself by itself, phased withdrawal tied to the Palestinian Authority’s performance on security and governance, and a resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue that allows Israel to retain its Jewish character.”

Any such resolution would likely be rejected by the Palestinians, acknowledged Ross, just as they had rejected the necessary compromises in 2000, 2008 and 2014.” Israel, too, might reject such terms. “But the Israelis are not the ones pushing for United Nations involvement. The Palestinians are. And if their approach is neither about two states nor peace, there ought to be a price for that.”