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Ross officially joins Israeli lobby

January 19, 2001


They put him there and now they hire him with a big pay raise

"Work with key Arab moderates (especially Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco) to encourage acts of public and private leadership in support of the peace process."

During the Lebanon War of 1982 -- some think of it as Sharon's war -- the Israelis and their American Jewish friends felt they had a difficult time when it came to public relations. And when the American Marines pulled out, symbolizing the failure of the Israelis to force Lebanon into the American-Israeli orbit and out of the Syrian-Arab one, the Israelis realized that they had much power in Washington on Capitol Hill, but not enough power with the media, intellectuals, and think-tanks. Hence was born the new think-tank to become known as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy -- the lobby's own think-tank.

Over the years the Israelis and their American Jewish friends have spent much time and effort building up the Washington Institute as well as positioning their people in key positions, both in and out of government. A few examples: Wolf Blitzer, former editor of the lobby's newsletter, Near East Report, became Washington correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and then, with much help from "the lobby", was promoted to his current still expanding role at CNN. Martin Indyk, former Executive Director of the Washington Institute, was detailed to the Clinton campaign in Little Rock; and then when Clinton was elected Indyk was quickly made an American citizen and "the lobby" got Clinton to essentially put him in charge of Middle East negotiations (first in the National Security Council, then as Assistant Secretary of State, and then Ambassador to Israel). Dennis Ross is another of those whose careers have been guided by "the lobby"; and when he was put in charge of Middle East negotiations Ross hired a group of loyal (or is it "dually loyal") American Jews to make up the "negotiating team" -- all approved by "the lobby" of course.

Over the years the Washington Institute has become a force in Washington with the media similar to how the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), essentially its parent, is on Capitol Hill. Amazingly, many of the Arab ambassadors and journalists have cooperated with the Institute in helping it achieve this role -- but that's another major story in itself.

So, even before he leaves his role in Government overseeing the "peace process" as an American Ambassador working on behalf of the Israelis as well as the U.S., Dennis Ross has officially signed up with the Washington Institute. Others from the American negotiating team will probably do the same; and who knows maybe Indyk will be coming back as well.

Meanwhile, "the lobby" doesn't waste time. Bush is not even President yet and the Washington Institute has already issued a major "Presidential Study Group" report designed to guide, and pressure, the new Administration. Read on. There's a lot of information here (hence we saved it all for "MER Weekend Reading") but the insights into how "the lobby" thinks and what to expect from the US in the months ahead are worthwhile.


WASHINGTON (AP - The Guardian - Tuesday, 16 January) - With the outlook bleak for concluding a peace accord, U.S. mediator Dennis B. Ross on Tuesday put on indefinite hold a scheduled trip to the Middle East where he had planned to confer with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

With only five days left in his term, President Clinton's hopes for a settlement approached the vanishing point. And Ross' long career as a Mideast mediator could end without a final burst of diplomacy in the region.

Ross will joint the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a private research group, its top officers, Fred Lafer and Michael Stein, announced Tuesday.

Simultaneously, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Ross was ``not going to make the trip we thought he would make.''

But, Boucher said, ``we are not giving up in our efforts.''

Ross, who held the post under Secretaries of State James A. Baker III, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, said late last year he planned to give up the job at the windup of the Clinton administration. He is expected to leave the State Department at the end of the month.

The incoming Bush administration may revamp the peacemaking apparatus, giving it less autonomy by folding it into the Near East Bureau. At the same time, Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell may assign one of his top deputies to oversee peacemaking operations.

Edward Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Syria who has helped Baker run a foreign-policy institute in Houston, is rumored to be in line for the job.

But whether Powell gives special emphasis to the Arab-Israeli conflict is an open question, dependent in part on whether the region is beset with violence and whether the dovish Prime Minister Ehud Barak or the tough-minded Ariel Sharon wins election for prime minister Feb. 6.

Clinton's efforts to promote a land-for-peace agreement came close to success last summer at a Camp David summit involving Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He gave negotiators for the two sides a blueprint for a settlement before Christmas and in a speech this month in New York made it public.

It included statehood for the Palestinians and control over part of Jerusalem, but not support for Arafat's insistence that millions of Palestinian refugees have a right to live in Israel.

Having tried several times to micromanage peace terms, Clinton after the Jan. 7 speech began to distance U.S. diplomats from the bumpy negotiations and place more emphasis on urging the two sides to cooperate to curb violence.

Both Clinton and Barak have warned that if the peace talks failed there could be renewed conflict in the region.

Senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed talks Tuesday in Jerusalem amid continued violence. In Gaza, Jewish settlers attacked Palestinian farms and homes in retaliation for a settler's death at the hands of militants.

Without waiting for the result of the Bush-Gore election, Ross said in November that he would quit in January.

Having logged hundreds of thousands of miles in a 12-year pursuit of peace based on Israel giving up territory in exchange for treaties, Ross cited family reasons for relinquishing the job when the administration changes in January.

In a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Ross, 51, called the surge of violence ``disheartening'' and said ``there are very deep, psychic wounds that are going to take some time to repair and recover from.''

Ross helped to persuade Israel and the Arabs to start peace talks in 1991 and in brokering a compromise deal in 1999 between Israel and the Palestinians over the contested West Bank town of Hebron.

Ross, in his Washington career, managed the rare feat of advising first President George Bush, for whom he was the chief foreign policy strategist in the 1988 presidential campaign, and then for Clinton, to whom Bush lost in 1992 despite attacking him as inexperienced in foreign affairs.

By Ze'ev Schiff Ha'aretz Military Editor

[Ha'aretz, 17 January]
A special Presidential Study Group sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy is recommending that the incoming Bush Administration "assess lessons of the Oslo experience" and "explore alternative paths to peace" between Israel and the Palestinians.

The study stresses that "there is no strategic alternative to the diplomatic process, for either Palestinians or Israelis," but adds that "there are, however, different paths the parties could take to achieve progress toward peace."

The 52-member panel that composed the study includes both Democrats and Republicans, as well as various Middle East experts. Several participants have asked that their names be removed from the list of signatories since they have in the meantime received appointments in the new administration. For example, Paul Wolfowitz will be deputy secretary of defense and Bob Blackwell is serving in President-elect George W. Bush's transition team.

The study concludes that "the top Middle East priority for a new president is to prevent a descent to regional war. The current fighting between Israelis and Palestinians could degenerate into wider regional war either through design or miscalculation." The authors of the report see the Lebanese-Israeli border as "the most serious 'hot zone' for potential hostilities."

The formula proposed for deterring regional war includes three "ingredients":

1. "Affirming the 'unwritten' alliance with Israel."

2. "Work with key Arab moderates (especially Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco) to encourage acts of public and private leadership in support of the peace process."

3. "Deterring adversaries, current and potential. Make sure that Syria's new leader, Bashar Assad, understands that emboldening Hezbollah into military actions against Israel could provoke a wider regional confrontation in which Syria itself would receive the brunt of Israeli retaliation.

Baghdad must also understand that the United States will orchestrate political and perhaps military responses should Iraq seek to intervene in the Arab-Israeli conflict, to bully or blackmail regional players like Jordan into adopting more obstructionist positions, or to exploit the current situation for military advantage elsewhere, such as in northern Iraq.


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thanks for being with us.

DENNIS ROSS: Pleasure.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You've been working at this a long time at great personal sacrifice. You've had to be away from your family for months at a time. Why? People tell us it's not just a professional commitment but a personal mission with you. Is that right?

DENNIS ROSS: I think that's a good way to put it. I worked in a lot of different issues before I focused exclusively on this one. On other issues whether I was negotiating START or issues of that sort, they never had the kind of personal character to it that this does. For me, this is a conflict that has a human face and because of that, I became more and more focused on what could be done to end this conflict. Obviously it served America's national interest, and clearly I was working for a president and Secretary of State who were deeply committed to trying to resolve it. But for me, there was an increasing sense that there has to be a way to resolve this because it was clear to me that both sides wanted to find a way to resolve it.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Take us back to August '93 when then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and one of the chief Israeli negotiators, Joel Singer, wanted to involve the United States in the Oslo process. Tell us what happened and where you were.

DENNIS ROSS: What happened in August of 1993 both Secretary Christopher and I were vacationing in California not too far from each other. He called me and said he just received a call from Prime Minister Rabin and that the two of us needed to go to Point Magoo which is a naval base not far from Santa Barbara the next day where we were going to have a secret meeting with Foreign Minister Peres and with Foreign Minister Hoest of Norway and that there was some kind of an agreement that had been between Israel and the PLO but Rabin really wanted our judgment -- and he asked very explicitly -- he wanted our judgment before he knew that this was something he was prepared to embrace. That's the way he put it. So we went to Point Magoo and Shimon Peres laid out what it is that they had done and he turned to Secretary Christopher and he said, "What do you think?" And Secretary Christopher turned to me and said, "What do you think?" And I said, "It's a historic agreement. It crosses an extraordinary threshold. Psychologically we have just gone...we have made unbelievable progress." And there's a lot of work to be done. No question. But in terms of crossing a major divide, a psychological divide, that's what this agreement represents because it represents mutual recognition between Israelis and Palestinians. Once you cross that threshold there's no going back.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In all these years what's the highest point for you?

DENNIS ROSS: I think the highest point was probably the initial ceremony at the White House because it had much more of a sense of history than any other moment. There were other moments where there were agreements that were significant, but they were all derivative from that initial one. I mean from a personal standpoint when we concluded the Hebron Agreement, which I basically shuttled over two different 23-day periods to work on and finally conclude, from a personal standpoint just given the level of effort, the around-the-clock effort that was involved with that, that was a personal high point. But I think September 13, 1993 at the White House was truly a historic moment.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Would you say that right now is a lowest moment?

DENNIS ROSS: It certainly is one of the lowest moments. I think Prime Minister Rabin's assassination was for me personally the lowest moment. I spent an enormous amount of time with him -- an awful lot of it in private one-on-one meetings. I admired him. He was a man who had a strategic vision. He was a man who had the courage to act on those visions. And I think from a personal standpoint, he had taken on for me a kind of larger-than-life quality. To see him struck down and everything that represented I think that was truly devastating. The current period is very difficult as well because we have come so far and gotten so close, to then see us in this kind of a period which raises questions about, again, the underpinnings of the process, it's obviously not an easy way to be concluding my tenure.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Talk about that. The questions that are raised about the underpinnings -- as you know General Sharon who may be the next Prime Minister -- the polls show that he's ahead -- said, "I want to put this as clearly as I can: The Oslo agreements do not exist anymore, period." Are they over? Is the process you've spent all these years working on basically over?

DENNIS ROSS: Well, I don't think the process can be over when you have Israelis and Palestinians who are destined to be neighbors. They're going to be neighbors. You cannot change that fact. History and geography have destined them to live next to each other. You can't wish it away. So a process is not going to disappear because they have to find a way to peacefully co-exist.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about the agreement up spent so much time developing? Will they stand?

DENNIS ROSS: The agreements created a reality on the ground. There is a Palestinian authority today. You can't wish that away. That shapes the choices for Palestinians and Israelis as well. We are at a point where you're going to have to negotiate a new set of agreements, either a permanent status agreement or something that creates a basis on which both sides can live together. All the agreements that came up to now-- there have been five, after the declaration of principles -- five agreements, they were all limited or partial agreements. They were all designed to set the stage to move towards a conclusion. Now clearly at this point, something has to replace that. There's no question about that.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Does your leaving mean that you do not foresee any kind of a final agreement soon?

DENNIS ROSS: I made the decision to leave. My reasons for leaving are much more related to the personal toll that this kind of a job takes. I've done it for, truly I've done it for twelve years not just the eight years of this administration. So I was ready to leave in any circumstance. Now I'm not walking away from something I believe in. I will continue to write and speak about these issues and try to affect the climate within which decisions get made. And I will try to affect also both parties in terms of what are the choices that are available to them and how best to act on those.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You were very close at the end of September to an agreement. You've said you were meeting here in Washington with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. Tell us a little about that and do you wake up at night and think, "Oh, we were so close?"

DENNIS ROSS: I believe that at the end of September we were clearly narrowing the gaps.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is just before the violence broke out.

DENNIS ROSS: Just before the violence broke out. And we were reaching a point where it looked like an agreement might be possible. In fact when I met with the negotiators I was actually the most skeptical of where we were and they were... they thought there was more potential than I did. At the end of three days of discussions what I felt was that, in fact, yes, an agreement is possible. Now, the violence has had a devastating effect on both sides. And yet, you know, you have President Clinton coming forth with ideas that were very far reaching, I think very significant from the standpoint of trying to settle this conflict. He said at the time when he presented it that if the ideas in the end weren't accepted that they would be withdrawn and they would leave with him and he repeated that last week.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But they're meeting today. Is there a possibility that there could be a sort of outline, basic principles that are adopted in the next week before the inauguration of the new president?

DENNIS ROSS: Well that's really up to them.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think happened? What caused the violence and the breakdown in the process?

DENNIS ROSS: I think it was a combination of things. Clearly on the Palestinian side there was frustration that has built up over the years. On the Israeli side there is a sense that we have come so far, we have a government that is stretched so far. How could we stretch that far, not have it accepted and have violence as well? What you see is a deep sense of grievance that has emerged on each side. I think there's one basic lesson I would draw, and that is that throughout this process, whatever the reality was at the table it wasn't matched by the reality on the ground. And the gap between the negotiations themselves or the leaders and the realities on the street have got to be reduced if you're going to reach an agreement of this kind of nature.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some people have called it an agreement of elites and that the preparing people on the ground for it just didn't happen at all.

DENNIS ROSS: I think that's right.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why? Why didn't it happen?

DENNIS ROSS: Well, I think here I would say the Palestinians did not do a lot to prepare their public -- partly because they see themselves as the weaker player in this equation, partly because the sense of grievance becomes an ongoing pressure to try to resolve things, partly because they don't want to give cards away that they consider to be important to the negotiations. But I think they do have to do a better job of preparing their public. On the Israeli side, I think they also have to recognize that they may contribute to sources of grievance. Demolition of homes, confiscation of lands, expansion of settlements, these are things that create a sense of powerlessness on the Palestinian side and add to the sense of grievance. The Palestinian authority, I think, has got to do much more to socialize peaceful attitudes on the one hand, not socialize hostility on the other.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How was your relationship with Arafat? In the Camp David meetings last summer, he at one point accused you of acting like Barak's lawyer. I mean, you know that the Palestinians have criticized you for being too close to the Israelis, for being their advocate. How was your relationship with Arafat?

DENNIS ROSS: Well, I think actually I spent so many hours with him I think I've come to know him rather well. I think I had a professional relationship with him. I mean we had good moments, we had tough moments, but that's the nature of any negotiation. I have to tell you that each side at one time or the other has accused me of being the other side's lawyer.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You've taken a lot of hits from both sides, I know this.

DENNIS ROSS: Yes. And I think that goes with the territory. I've spent a lot of time trying to explain each side to the other. Now, inevitably, when you're explaining one side to the other, they think, well, gee, you're understanding one, well, what about me, so there was a lot of that, but it's the essence of being a mediator.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: When you look back now - I want to ask you this once again - do you feel like all of this work is unraveling?

DENNIS ROSS: You're going to have to go through a process in resolving this kind of a conflict that is characterized by different stages. You can try to resolve everything at once, and we do for a variety of reasons, given the alternatives, but I think you have to recognize that psychologically to take on issues that are existential to each side, like tourism, like refugees, like settlements, like borders. There needs to be a period of conditioning where each side comes to understand what's possible and what isn't possible. If you don't take that on, you're never going to settle the conflict. But the process of taking it on is something that requires some time. We have broken the taboos on these issues. The Camp David... Camp David was itself I think successful because it allowed the dissection of these issues in a way they had never been dealt with before. Oslo allotted three years to deal with permanent status issues. We didn't have the three years during the Netanyahu period because permanent status was never addressed then. We had less than a year to try to deal with these. So when you finally got to Camp David, which was the first time issues like Jerusalem were seriously dealt with at all, each side had to begin to understand what was possible and what wasn't possible. Having broken the taboo, having demystified these issues, it means that they can be dealt with over time. Maybe it will take some time to resolve them. But the groundwork, the essential foundations I think have been laid.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How much worse could it get?

DENNIS ROSS: There's a potential for it to become much worse. Even when I say that we've laid the foundations for an eventual agreement, if you don't get an agreement now, it may take several years before you can get back to that point. In the meantime, the only difference will be not the outcome. It will be the number of victims.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you, Mr. Ambassador, very much. Good luck.

DENNIS ROSS: Thank you.

By Janine Zacharia

JERUSALEM PSOT, WASHINGTON (January 19) - The Palestinian leadership misled its public about what would be achievable through negotiations and has missed an historic opportunity for a peace settlement with Israel, outgoing US Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross told The Jerusalem Post in a 40-minute interview yesterday.

"The Palestinians have to do more to tell the truth to their own public about what's possible and what isn't possible," Ross said, adding that on the other hand Israel should refrain from unilateral "steps on the ground." He referred to Palestinian opponents of US President Bill Clinton's proposals as descendants of those who rejected past schemes for shared sovereignty of the Holy Land and later regretted it.

He largely agreed with the Israeli assessment that the Palestinians spawned a wave of violence in September after deciding their goals could not be achieved through negotiations.

"It is difficult to see what possible stake Israel has in violence and there are clearly some on the Palestinian side who seem to think violence serves their cause," he said.

Ross acknowledged that it was upsetting for him as a Jew when the Palestinians questioned the Jewish historical connection with the Temple Mount during negotiations over Jerusalem. He confirmed for the first time that, in 1995, then-Syrian president Hafez Assad had rebuffed a US request to issue a statement of condolences after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, saying instead that he was already doing his part by keeping the Syrian public from celebrating in the streets.

Ross, who wraps up seven years as special Middle East coordinator today, also spoke of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's intentions, the story behind Clinton's setting out his bridging proposals in an unprecedented speech to the Israel Policy Forum, a Palestinian right of return, troubles he faced as a Jewish negotiator, prospects for a post-Clinton peace deal, and his biggest regret.

Jerusalem Post: Do you believe that Arafat sincerely wanted a peace deal?

Dennis Ross: It is even more of an historic decision obviously than the decision to agree to OsloÉThat was an historic threshold that was crossed and it was a big decision, but it's not as big a decision as ending the conflict with Israel. To make that decision he has to satisfy in his own mind that it's something he can accept, the terms are terms he is prepared to live with, and he also believes he can sell.

JP: So Arafat needs more time to digest it?

DR: At this point, I would say, for whatever reasons he has not been able to conclude a deal, even though there are obviously very far-reaching ideas that the president of the United States presented.

JP: Did you ever get the feeling Arafat was schizophrenic? That one day he seemed a peacemaker and the next the opposite?

DR: My feeling is that he has always had in mind certain bottom lines and the question is being able to reconcile his bottom lines with Israel's bottom lines. What the president did was present our best judgment of what was fair, what responded to the central needs of each side - not to the desires - and what was feasible. And it was the outer limit. This is something at this point obviously Chairman Arafat could accept only with reservations. The president's ideas leave [the White House] with the president.

JP: This point is distressing a lot of people. They don't believe it. They say once you lay out those ideas publicly, they become a new starting point for any future negotiations.

DR: The president also said those who press for more will get less. And he also said in that speech [to the Israel Policy Forum] not to push for the impossible...The president's ideas were not a new expression of American policy. The new administration is not obligated in any way, shape, or form by these ideas.

JP: Did you support the idea of the president going public with all of these ideas in the IPF speech?

DR: Yes I saw value in the president doing it.

JP: Who wrote the speech?

DR: It was a collective effortÉThe president had a text, but at least half of what he said was completely the president on the stage.

JP: One point in the speech that caused concern in Israel was when he spoke of a Palestinian right of return and said refugees would be entitled to go to Israel.

DR: The fact of the matter is there should be a right of return to the new state of Palestine. There should be no right of return to Israel. There's a complete illogic in terms of having your state which can be the ingathering place for all refugees and yet at the same time wanting the right of return to your neighbor.

JP: So why did the president say, refugees "who want to find new homes, whether in their current locations or in third countries, should be able to do so, consistent with those countries' sovereign decisions. And that includes Israel."

DR: Does that say "right?" Did I hear "right of return" there? "That they are allowed to find new homes consistent with the sovereign decision of those countries." So who has the sovereignty? Israel.

JP: But then you have a situation where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are applying to go to Israel. And Israel will reject most of them. That's sustainable?

DR: Israel is treated from that standpoint as a country like any other who will decide who it admits.

JP: Wasn't there a trade-off - Israel makes more concessions on Jerusalem and in return the Palestinians forgo the right of return? Now Prime Minister Ehud Barak went further on Jerusalem and Israel still has to contend with the right of return. What did Arafat give up?

DR: They have the right of return to their state. They don't have the right of return any place else. They can apply to go other places. They have the right to compensation that will be handled through an international mechanism.

JP: A personal question. As a Jew who spent a lot of time in Israel, you were criticized a lot in the Arab world. How did you deal with that? And also, as a Jew, did you have any trouble during the talks negotiating away parts of Jerusalem, for example?

DR: It's a lot easier to criticize me than to criticize the president or the secretary of state. No. 2, it's almost inevitable in this role that you are going to be criticized. I spent an enormous amount of my time explaining one side to the other. And inevitably that means whomever you are dealing with at the time feels you are taking "their needs into account, what about mine?" In terms of my own personal feelings about what I was negotiating, obviously this was a difficult process for everyone involved.

JP: As a Jew, when the Palestinians said at Camp David there was never a Temple on the Temple Mount, did that upset you?

DR: Yes. Look, if one side or another tries to deny the other side's history or its truth it's inappropriate.

JP: What do you think the president's biggest miscalculation was?

DR: I don't know that the president miscalculated.

JP: Never? Did he not believe mistakenly that he could persuade Arafat at Camp David to accept a deal?

DR: The notion that somehow everything was based on the assumption that you can simply persuade Arafat is erroneous. We didn't go to Camp David because we thought the chances were great. We went to Camp David because we saw the consequences of not going.

JP: What were those consequences?

DR: We were going to have an explosion much sooner. It would be over the issue of statehood. It would set in motion statehood versus annexation. You would have a cycle of escalation that would make what we've seen so far seem tame by comparison and we would never have known if an agreement was possibleÉThere's a lot of revisionism now.

JP: You said you had to see if a deal was possible. You didn't get one. Is it impossible now?

DR: This administration stretched to the very limit.

JP: So what does this bode for subsequent attempts?

DR: You cannot wish away the fundamentals. Those who think you don't have to give anything are simply wrong. On the Palestinian side there are those who press Arafat to either get more or say no. They're the ideological descendants [of those] who said no in '48 and those who said no to the Peel Commission report in '37. And every time they've said no, later on they regretted saying no, because what's available has become less. And the opportunity that was there doesn't last. There are probably those in Israel who think they can hold all the territory and they'll have peace. They are living just as much of an illusion.

JP: Are you referring to Likud prime ministerial candidate Ariel Sharon?

DR: I'm not typecasting anybody. I'm simply saying those who believe you don't have to give anything on either side are wrong. The realities will impose themselvesÉ My feeling is if you don't achieve something in the very near future, then it will probably be several years before you can achieve something again, at least in terms of a complete deal.

JP: Why didn't you go back to the region one last time as planned?

DR: First, because I wanted to see more done on security, and second because I wanted to see whether their own contacts would materialize. Then it got to the point when it was too late to go.

JP: Some Syria-related questions. When prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, did you ask late Syrian president Hafez Assad to issue a statement expressing regret over his passing?


JP: And did Assad say, 'I am already making my contribution by not letting the people riot in joy in the streets?'

DR: He did say something to that effect. But he did express his sympathies to Leah Rabin and he wanted them passed.

JP: The Clinton-Assad summit in March is cited as a real missed opportunity, what happened?

DR: We did not expect to close a deal in Geneva. That was never the point. The idea was whether or not you would be close enough that you would then be able to move toward closing a deal. Clearly the president felt that what he brought from Prime Minister Barak put us in a position where we should be able to move toward closing a deal.

JP: There must have been some prior indication that Assad would accept what you were bringing.

DR: We came out of Shepherdstown [in January] and we had a series of impressions of what was possible. And when we got to Geneva what we found is some of the things we thought were possible suddenly seemed less possible.

JP: Who is responsible in your view for the past four months of violence?

DR: It is difficult to see what possible stake Israel has in violence and there are clearly some on the Palestinian side who seem to think violence serves their cause. They are completely wrongheaded. Violence will not serve their cause. Rather than achieving their aspirations, it will delay the achievement of their aspirations.

JP: But didn't the Palestinians get more concessions from Israel after the violence?

DR: They don't have anything right now.

JP: Didn't the Israeli offer become sweeter in negotiations after the clashes broke out?

DR: Frankly, the kind of ideas that the president in the end presented were [ones] he might well have presented, given where things were headed. Violence did not produce more for them. In fact the violence created an environment where it was harder to conclude an agreement. If the Palestinians want to see an agreement, there are things they have to do with regard to security. I also think the Palestinians need to do much more to prepare their public for peace than they have.

JP: There seemed to be a total disconnect between what the Palestinians were saying to the administration and what they said publicly.

DR: It's not just what is said to us. I see a gap between what happens at the negotiating table and what happens away from the negotiating table. That gap has to be reduced. You can't socialize hostility, you can't socialize grievanceÉAt the same time if you want the Palestinians not to socialize grievance and [you want to] be effective in that, then there shouldn't be steps that Israel takes on the ground...But the Palestinians have to do more to tell the truth to their own public. About what's possible and what isn't possible.

JP: The incoming Bush administration is planning to eliminate your position of Middle East coordinator. What do you think about this?

DR: This position was created for me. I'm not particularly surprised that a new administration when it comes in, since I'm leaving, would want to think about how best to organize things and may do it in a different way.

JP: What is one thing you wish you had done differently?

DR: I think the whole people-to-people approach, the whole need to ensure that there isn't incitement that there isn't socialization of hostility. If there is one thing I wish we had done more effectively, that's it.

JP: You have referred to Rabin as "a man of strategic vision" and "courage." Do you feel the same way about Barak?

DR: Prime Minister Barak has put himself on the line. He certainly has been prepared to make historic decisions. He sought to do that within the context of what he has defined as Israel's essential needs and what he feels is also fundamental to their securityÉIt has not been easy for him. He believed it was a moment when we might be able to end this conflict. We also believed it was a moment where you might be able to end this conflict. I believe Chairman Arafat also believed it.

January 2001


Leila Khalid - refugee from Haifa, fighter for Palestine
(January 31, 2001)
When Palestinian liberation fighter Leila Khaled hijacked her first plane in 1969, she became the international pin-up of armed struggle. Then she underwent cosmetic surgery so she could do it again. Thirty years on, she talks to Katharine Viner about being a woman at war.

The end of Israel?
(January 30, 2001)
At a time with rampant current events breaking daily, often hourly, there is much need to remember the importance of sometimes taking time for reflection, of sometimes stepping back to contemplate both the past and the future.

Sharon - the REAL legacy of Clinton and Barak
(January 30, 2001)
As the Barak era fades from view -- more short-lived than anyone predicted just a long year and a half ago -- his epitaph is already being written and Ariel Sharon's government and policies are already being debated.

Looming civil war in Palestine
(January 29, 2001)
Fears are growing in the international community that Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) is heading for collapse.

Arafat blasts, Peres maneuvers, Barak sinks
(January 29, 2001)
For all practical purposes Ehud Barak is gone and Yasser Arafat is now desperately trying to save his own skin.

Barak's 3 no's, and Bush's 7 minute call
(January 28, 2001)
The Americans leaked it, a 7-minute Saturday call from the new U.S. Pres to the sinking Israeli PM -- leaked its brevity that is.

The Bomb and Iraq
(January 28, 2001)
As war clouds gather in the Middle East public opinion is being prepared for a possible regional war that could likely include a combined Western/Israeli effort to take out the weapons of mass destruction in Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The "nuts" in the next room
(January 27, 2001)
In recent years Israel's most important and serious newspaper, Ha'aretz, has taken to not only reporting Palestinian affairs much more deeply but to interviewing major Palestinian personalities abroad.

Get ready for Prime Minister Sharon
(January 27, 2001)
The new Ma'ariv-Gallop poll questioned a particularly large sample of 1,100 people, putting special emphasis on the Arab population and new immigrants.

Panic in the Barak camp
(January 27, 2001)
All the tricks and lies of the Israeli Labor Party have now come back to haunt it. Barak, never a politician, bears the brunt of popular blame for all the political deceptions and tricks that have for so long accumulated.

War alert in Europe and Middle East
(January 27, 2001)
We've noted the "war fever" growing in the region for some months now. There's considerable anxiety about who may now strike first.

Israeli and Jewish soul-searching
(January 26, 2001)
The Intifada, coupled with Israeli brutality and recognition that the term "Apartheid Peace" is in fact applicable after all, are having an effect on at least some Israelis and some Jews; even while Ariel Sharon marches to the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem (and maybe because of this).

"Disastrous" American intervention
(January 26, 2001)
ou've got to wonder about these Palestinian "negotiators". What others saw decades ago those who have been most involved are apparently beginning to see only now.

Sharon marches on, Barak stumbles on
(January 25, 2001)
The 554,000 Arabs eligible to vote represent 12.3 percent of the electorate. The Arab turnout in 1999 was 76%, and 95% voted for Barak.

An alliance of the outcasts? Iran, Iraq and Syria
(January 24, 2001)
So the Israelis are going to elect war-criminal tough-guy General Ariel Sharon to be Prime Minister. This after the most top-heavy military-intelligence government in peacetime history for Israel -- that of General Ehud Barak.

General Powell says no to sanctions on behalf of Corporate America
(January 23, 2001)
Hamas has struck again and the "negotiations" are "suspended" again. Two Israelis were assassinated by masked men while eating at a restaurant in Tulkarm. Though this time it was Israelis who were killed it was another warning to Yasser Arafat. Last week similarly masked men in Gaza killed a close Arafat friend, the head of Palestinian TV in Gaza, just as it was rumored Arafat was about to sign some kind of new deal with the Israelis.

EyeWitness Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa
(January 23, 2001)
The depressing element of this entire struggle is that the Arafat regime survives and...will be the one to ultimately determine the fate of the Palestinian people.

War Fever - Israel and Syria
(January 23, 2001)
Tensions continue to grow in the Middle East region, armies continue to prepare, public opinion continues to be manipulated. Though Ehud Barak too is a militarist -- a former commando, General, and Chief of Staff of the Army -- Ariel Sharon brings with him historical baggage and war-criminal image which could easily contribute to a clash of armies sooner rather than later, even if not fully intended by either side.

EyeWitness Gaza
(January 22, 2001)
A year or so ago, I visited the Mouwasi area in Gaza. It was a green paradise, on top, and in the midst, of white sand dunes. I particularly remember this Guava grove, where the guavas hanging from the trees were the size of large oranges; I hadn't seen anything like that ever before.

Reaping what they have sown
(January 22, 2001)
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak abruptly cut short a radio interview on Sunday after being asked about his poor showing in opinion polls, prompting speculation he was buckling under pressure of a February 6 election.

Israel's president departs
(January 21, 2001)
There has never been, and there probably never will be, a president who had such fantastic relations with the State of Israel. It's unbelievable.

Ross officially join Israeli lobby
(January 19, 2001)
During the Lebanon War of 1982 -- some think of it as Sharon's war -- the Israelis and their American Jewish friends felt they had a difficult time when it came to public relations. And when the American Marines pulled out, symbolizing the failure of the Israelis to force Lebanon into the American-Israeli orbit and out of the Syrian-Arab one, the Israelis realized that they had much power in Washington on Capitol Hill, but not enough power with the media, intellectuals, and think-tanks.

War preparations in Israel
(January 19, 2001)
It's always called "The Peace Process" but more behind-the-scenes the whole Middle East region continues to be an arms bazaar with more weapons being sold to the countries in the area than ever before, most by American arms merchants and allies.

Palestinian TV Head killed
(January 17, 2001)
It may have been a warning to Arafat not to dare sign any new agreements, as has been rumored in the past few days he was planning to do tomorrow in fact. It may have been another Israeli assassination - though usually they don't take such risks and use such methods, strongly preferring instead to use high-technology and long-distance means.

Iraq, Saddam and the Gulf War
(January 17, 2001)
It was 10 years ago yesterday that the U.S. unleashed the power of the Empire against the country of Iraq after created the regional conditions that lead to the Iraq-Iran and then the Iraq-Kuwait-Saudi wars. In that period of time somewhere in the number of 1.5 million Iraqis have been killed, the history of the Middle East altered, the future of the region more uncertain and dangerous than ever.

Last night in Gaza ghetto
(January 16, 2001)
It's quite a game of international political brinkmanship. At the same time that Yasser Arafat is being tremendously pressured, and quite possibly further tricked, to sign some kind of "framework agreement" with Clinton and Barak before it is too late -- his regime is also being threatened with extinction both from within and without.

Generals Sharon and Barak as politicians
(January 16, 2001)
With Jan 20 (Clinton leaves office) and Feb 6 (Barak likely to be defeated by Sharon) fast approaching, desperation and near panic are evident in the traditional power centers, including various Arab capitals.

"Unilateral separation" one way or another
(January 15, 2001)
The separation plan would go into the event of one of the following three scenarios: as a response to a unilateral declaration of statehood on the part of the Palestinians; under a severe security threat; or as part of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority

Up in arms against Apartheid
(January 13, 2001)
At the end of the second millennium, three million Palestinians are imprisoned in ghettoes by the very man whom the Palestinian leadership hailed as the saviour of peace. Netanyahu had driven the peace ship off course. Barak scuttled it.

Locking in Oslo
(January 12, 2001)
The Americans and the Israelis continue to try to twist the screws. Their minimum goal now is to "lock in" the "Oslo Peace Process" approach to the conflict. It may be an "Apartheid Peace", and it may have resulted in considerable bloodshed, but even so it is leading to a form of "Palestinian Statehood" and "separation" that the Israelis strongly desire as the best alternative for themselves.

Sharon charges on
(January 12, 2001)
he long-serving (now recalled to Cairo) Egyptian Ambassador to Israel was quoted saying last week that if an Israeli-Palestinian agreement isn't reached in the next two weeks there won't be an agreement for the next two decades.

"Sharon leads to peace"
(January 11, 2001)
The last time the Israeli "Arab vote" was pushed toward Shimon Peres for Prime Minister -- back in 1996 -- there was much resistance. Then Peres was acting Prime Minister after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Army had just committed the Qana massacre in Southern Lebanon, and Peres was busy trying to cover it up.

Grandfather Sharon
(January 10, 2001)
If the polls remain as disastrous as they now are for Ehud Barak, expect him to be pushed out and Shimon Peres substituted. Barak has no chance; Peres has some, especially with the "Arab vote".

The Dangerous weeks, months ahead
(January 10, 2001)
Guys like Commando-General-Prime Minster Ehud Barak don't go easily from the scene. Barak's daring-do was lavishly praised just a few years ago; now it has even the military types fretting. No telling just what Barak and friends might try in the next few weeks.

Assissination, siege and war crimes
(January 9, 2001)
The Israeli government, both as a group and as individuals, bears full responsibility for the crimes that were committed. We will do everything possible, including declaring members of this government war criminals who are eligible for trial by the world tribunal." Palestinian Authority "Minister"

Soul-searching Israelis
(January 9, 2001)
The "liberals" among them, the most cosmopolitan and internationally-oriented of the Israelis, are now getting extra nervous. Not only is Ariel Sharon coming to power, not only is regional war possible, not only are the cold treaties with Egypt and Jordan in jeopardy, but even Israel's future has come into question

Israel acts while Arafat talks
(January 8, 2001)
srael continues to take major steps designed to shrink, isolate and control the Palestinian areas forever. The policy is termed "unilateral separation" and it is linked to bringing about a so-called "Palestinian State" that serves Israeli interests, making everything worse than ever for the Palestinian "natives".

Clinton's Israel speech
(January 8, 2001)
On his way out the Presidential door Bill Clinton went to New York City to speak to his American Jewish supporters and further grease his way toward his future. This is the Bill Clinton that turned the U.S. government over to the Israeli/Jewish lobby in his years in office; of course pretending otherwise.

Specter of an "ugly future"
(January 5, 2001)
Lofty, humanitarian goals like 'peace and democracy'? No, America's primary interest in the Middle East is effective control of the world's most important energy reserves, Noam Chomsky tells Ha'aretz

Prime Minister Sharon
(January 5, 2001)
Did President Hindenburg and the German intelligentsia feel this way in 1930s when they saw that Adolf Hitler, and his brownshirt thugs, were about to be elected to power?

Barak and Sharon
(January 5, 2001)
While the Labor "Doves" are busy running ads in Arab papers showing dismembered corpses in Palestinian Refugee Camps -- with the caption "Sharon" -- the reality is that Generals Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon are more two of a kind than anything else.

Arab nations add their voices to the chorus of despair
(January 4, 2001)
All chance of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians in the near future is vanishing, destroyed by hardening opinions on both sides, continuing violence, the precarious position of the political leaders involved and disagreements over key issues.

Darling of American Jewry
(January 4, 2001)
Over the years, most of the strongest advocates of Israel have usually been people who are not Jewish....[I] look forward to working with him...

Barak publicly warns of regional war
(January 4, 2001)
Amid veiled threats from the Israelis to start targeting even more senior Arafat Regime persons, and even to bring the Arafat "Palestinian Authority" to an end, Ehud Barak has also started publicly talking about the possibility of regional war.

No deal for Arafat
(January 3, 2001)
In particular, the Palestinians are concerned that the proposed settlement would create Palestinian territorial islands separated from each other by Israeli territory and therefore not viable as a nation. They object to a proposed land swap that would allow some Israeli settlers to remain on the West Bank in exchange for land that the Palestinians claim is desert and a toxic waste dump.

Arafat rushes to Washington
(January 2, 2001)
Clinton and the Israelis have set the stage for the last act of their multi-year drama attempting to trap the Palestinians on controlled reservations and calling it "an end to the conflict". But like a modern-day computer game the users can interact and change the outcome to various scenarios.

Top Palestinian Leader in the Arafat Regime
(January 2, 2001)
The whole house of political quicksand built by Bill Clinton at the behest of the Israelis (and popularly known as the "Peace Process") is bubbling, steaming, and swallowing many of its key participants.

Arafat hangs up on threatening Clinton
(January 1, 2001)
The coming issue of TIME magazine reports that Arafat hung up the phone receiver on Clinton a few days ago, turning to an aide and saying: "He's threatening me!

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