Veteran diplomat and Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross predicted an “endgame proposal” by the United States would allow the Iranians to have civil nuclear power but not the ability to make nuclear weapons.
“I will tell you as sure as I am sitting here,” Ross told a New Jersey audience, “that whoever is president awill wind up offering that because the United States is not going to go to war until the president can demonstrate to the American public we went the extra mile. We are not going to resort to force without that.”
Speaking before an audience of 400 at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills on Oct. 23, Ross spoke about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the possibilities for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the limits of military intervention.
“We can destroy every nuclear facility they have and they can rebuild every one of them. Force is a means, not an end, and after force is used you are going to have to have diplomacy again,” he explained.
Ross has served as a State Department official and Middle East envoy under Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. He is currently a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank.
His talk was the year’s opening event for the American Jewish Committee’s Metro New Jersey chapter.
He said Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “has issued multiple declarations saying, ‘Having nuclear weapons is a sin,’” statements that give him, said Ross, “a public explanation for backing down.”
The power of sanctions plus a belief that Iran will have much to lose from the failure of diplomacy create the possibility of a diplomatic outcome, he said.
“Economically, the supreme leader a week ago described the sanctions as ‘brutal’ after always saying, ‘The sanctions made us stronger,’” said Ross.
Insisting that no third party can impose a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ross laid out an agenda that he said could be used for renewed talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The goal would be to overcome “the mutual disbelief” the two sides have for one another.
He called on Israel to offer compensation and create viable housing for West Bank settlers “who are prepared to leave on a voluntary basis.” Such a move would “send a signal to the Palestinians that we are not about expanding in the areas [they] consider to be [their] state.”
Ross also called on the Israeli government to “allow Palestinians economic activity” in parts of the West Bank, and make them more responsible for maintaining security in their villages.
His suggestions would require the Palestinian to “put Israel on the map. You can’t find Israel on the map in any Palestinian textbook, Palestinian website, or Palestinian document,” he said.
He urged Palestinian leaders to “acknowledge there is a Jewish historical connection to the land and to Jerusalem. You don’t make your claims more credible by in effect denying theirs.”
He suggested Palestinians should “stop the incitement” and leaders should speak out “when a square in one of the towns is named for someone who killed Israelis. Not everybody who killed an Israeli is a martyr.”
He said the Palestinian Authority should “build its own state by building a rule of law…. You will send a message to the Israelis about the kind of state you are going to be.”
A final step, to be undertaken by both sides, would be to condition young people to live in peace by having them share classrooms from the time they reach the third or fourth grade.
“I want Israeli and Palestinian kids to see each other, to interact with each other, to see that they are real people, like them. The only Israelis Palestinians see are soldiers. If these are the only Israelis you see, you don’t develop a humanistic view of the Israelis,” Ross said.
In an interview following his speech, Ross was asked to respond to criticism by supporters of Israel who say Arabs can’t be trusted to live up to their end of a negotiated bargain.
“You can have questions and you can be skeptical, but if you start with the premise that it is impossible, you are making a self-fulfilling prophesy,” he told NJ Jewish News. “You will never find out if you have a possibility. It is worth testing. I don’t think anyone should take anything at face value, but you should at least test the possibility.”
Acting as moderator, John Rosen, executive director of the AJC’s Metro New Jersey Region, asked Ross about the future of Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ross said the United States needs to recognize “they have certain needs and we need to be supportive, provide they obey certain ground rules.”
He said Egypt has “profound economic needs” and the United States “has no interest in them becoming a failed state.” But to earn American support, the Egyptian leaders must respect the rights of religious minorities, ensure the education of its largely illiterate female population, and “uphold international obligations, first and foremost the peace treaty with Israel.
“If the Sinai becomes a platform for acts of terror,” Ross asked, “who is going to invest in them?”