Laura Rozen yesterday wrote an interesting piece on Politico about the debate within the White House staff over Israel. According to her a heated debate is going on and the main protagonists are - surprise? - Dennis Ross on the one hand and the supporters of special envoy George Mitchell at the other.
Ross is an old hand, a man who made his career at the Jewish lobby AIPAC and its think tank Washington Institute of Near East Policy (WINEP). After that he was the roving ambassador and go between at the Oslo- and so called peace processes during the Clinton and Bush administrations. In Obama's crew he got the function of overseeer of America's Iran policy.
As far as the present White House discussions around Obama's policy towards Netanyahu are concerned, Rozen quotes peaople who were present at the deliberations, who tell that Ross constantly pointed out that Netanyahu's room for manoeuver is limited due to the constraints of his coalition. Also he took the line that putting pressure on Netanyahu would encourage 'the Arabs' to raise their demands. He tried to convince the White House staff that considerations about what Netanyahu's could or could not do was to take precedence, whereas the Mitchell supporters argued that nothing less than the credibility of the US Middle East policy was at stake. Rozen quotes one official who said that:
“He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu's coalition politics than to U.S. interests,” one U.S. official told POLITICO Saturday. “And he doesn't seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this Administration.”... Ross “was always saying about how far Bibi could go and not go. So by his logic, our objectives and interests were less important than pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi's coalition's red lines.”Other officials who have discussed recent U.S.-Israel tensions with Ross say
he argues that all parties need to keep focus on the big picture, Iran, and the peace process as being part of a wider U.S. effort to bolster an international and regional alliance including Arab nations and Israel to pressure and isolate Iran. This is an argument that presumably has resonance with the Netanyahu government. But at the same time, Arab allies tell Washington that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem inflames their publics and breeds despair and makes it hard for them to work even indirectly and quietly with Israel on Iran.
And a third wonders why Ross, in fact, is still around
''....no one asks the question: why, since his approach in the Oslo years was such an abysmal failure, is he back, peddling the same snake oil?”To which I might add: How is it possible that a man who wrote a book - The Missing Peace - which so eloquently illustrated how biased he is in favour of Israel (Norman Finkelstein shredded his approach to pieces) has survived the Bush administration. Ross would probably make a good minister in an Israeli cabinet. Also his AIPAC buddie may be proud of him. But hopefully what he's doing in and around the White House will increasingly become a big, big question mark.