Dennis Ross's new peace plan based on trusting Abbas as kosher on non-violence
Dennis Ross has been the chief U.S. mediator in seeking ways to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under three U.S. presidents -- Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Still, American-brokered efforts to advance the peace process are going nowhere -- primarily because Palestinian Authority President Mahoud Abbas insists on major Israeli concessions before the two sides even return to the negotiating table. In turn, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been ready for direct talks for more than a year as long as they get under way without any pre-conditions - a stance backed by the U.S., the UN, the European Union and Russia.
How to break this seemingly insurmountable deadlock? Ross is an indefatigable mediator and is not ready to throw in the towel. In an op-ed piece in the Sunday, Jan. 8 edition of the Washington Post, he advances his own plan to get the two sides moving ("How to break a Middle East stalemate" page B3).
In order to bring about a favorable climate for negotiations, Ross wants Israel to cede greater autonomy to Abbas's PA in the West Bank. He thinks that by scaling back its security presence, Israel will give the Palestinians more room to build a stronger economy, which should make them more willing to engage in serious negotiations and blunt the influence of the rival Hamas group, which controls Gaza, from spreading to the West Bank.
Under the Oslo accords of the 1990s, the West Bank now is split in three areas in terms of how much -- or how little -- autonomy is granted to the Palestinian Authority. Area A, which includes all the major population centers, is under full Palestinian civil and security control. Still, Israeli security teams occasionally conduct sweeps and incursions to arrest Palestinian terrorists when the PA is not up to its responsibilities. Ross believes that Abbas's police, in coordination with Israeli security forces, has nevertheless demonstrated sufficient responsibility in maintaining the peace for Israel to pull out of Area A completely.
In Area B, where Israel and the Palestinians share law-enforcement responsibilities, Ross would have Israel cede more authority to the PA. In Area C, the biggest of the three areas, Israel now retains total police and anti-terrorist security control. The result, Ross argues, is "extremely limited" Palestinian economic activity in a big chunk of the West Bank. Again, he would have Israel gradually pull back. "There is no practical reason that the Palestinians cannot be permitted dramatically more economic access and activity in this area," he asserts.
Ross's plan, however, has a couple of major flaws.
For one thing, he sees little, if any, danger from terrorists in the West Bank since the supposed end of the second intifada in 2005. Widespread, large-scale terrorist attacks may be a thing of the past. But Ross ignores continuous, sporadic attacks on Israelis, including a bloody trail of fatalities, that Palestinian security forces have been unable or unwilling to prevent. Even so, Israel already has taken risks in ceding considerable autonomy to the Palestinians to allow more economic growth in the West Bank. By taking down many roadblocks and checkpoints, Israel has paid a price in the vulnerability of its people. Ross is a bit too cavalier in downplaying how much riskier his plan would be for Israel.
Beyond that, Ross bases his entire proposal on an unwarranted perception that Abbas is a trustworthy apostle of non-violence. Israel, Ross believes, can and should unilaterally "change the realities on the ground" by expanding Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank because "leaders such as Abbas believe in non-violence and co-existence."
In making this roseate assessment of Abbas as a Gandhiesque figure, Ross ignores the far darker and threatening side of Abbas. In fact, the record completely belies Ross's confidence in Abbas. Here is a Palestinian leader who repeatedly and consistently glorifies suicide bombers. Only a week or so ago, Abbas appointed as his personal adviser a Palestinian terrorist kingpin imprisoned by the Israelis on multiple murder convictions, but recently freed as part of Israel's deal with Hamas for the release of Gilad Shalit.
Also, not a week goes by but that Abbas's PA TV broadcasts fulsome eulogies of terrorists and teaches young Palestinians to emulate "holy martyrs" who have gone to paradise for killing Jews. In addition, textbooks and media under Abbas's control repeatedly show a Palestinian state that encompasses the entire land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, thus eliminating Israel altogether.
And by his absolute insistence on a right of return to Israel for 5 million Palestinian "refugees" and their descendants, Abbas clings to an agenda of destroying the Jewish state demographically. Ross views Abbas as the right leader to pursue a two-state solution. But a closer look at Abbas's actual performance and agenda indicates that what he really has in mind is a one-state solution - a Palestinian state that leaves no room for Israel.
Somehow, Ross ignores all these Palestinian realities as he trots out another "peace" plan that demands only concessions from Israel, while ignoring manifest dangers posed by undertaking such risks.
Ross's plan would have more credibility if he had twinned Israeli flexibility in the West Bank in exchange for a complete cessation of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement by Abbas's Palestinian Authority. But in making no demands on Abbas, Ross has produced just another unrealistic, futile blueprint that would not advance the cause of peace by a single inch. And by demanding much from Israel and nothing from the Palestinians, he has disqualified himself from any further mediation assignments
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers