The Middle East Times
January 20, 2009 - 1:00am

The return of veteran U.S. peace envoy Dennis Ross to his old beat on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process should receive a qualified welcome across the region: Ross and the policies of reconciliation that he can be guaranteed to energetically promote will be a vast improvement on the malign neglect of the past eight years practiced by President George W. Bush.
And Ross, strongly backed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, can be counted upon to be far more consistent, competent and forceful in seeking to revive the peace process than was the current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's Annapolis "process" proved to be.

However, exaggerated hopes should not be placed on Ross either. His conduct during the seven years of the Oslo process did not play remotely as well among Palestinians and in the wider Arab world the way it did in the uncritical American press, and with good reason.

During those years, as has been well documented, the rate of settlement of Israelis beyond the 1967 borders actually accelerated far faster, and many more people were settled there, especially in major developments like Maale Adumim, than had been the case during the pre-Oslo governments of hard-liners Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.

Also, the standard of living of the Palestinians in the territories, especially in Gaza, collapsed during those years. Ross and the U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton that he served made no serious effort either to combat both the corruption of the new Palestinian Authority and the cynical economic war waged upon it by successive Israeli governments.

For all his manic, endlessly energetic efforts and a life that seemed to be lived continuously on the cell phone, Ross notably failed to win the lasting trust and respect of Palestinian leaders.

He will have a much tougher, uphill battle this time when he must contend not only with Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's much weakened successor as Palestinian Authority president, but also with the leaders of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, in Gaza, where they enjoyed the direct support of no less than two-thirds of those voting in the 2006 elections.

Middle East governments should also be warned that during his long career, Ross has shown zero interest in any other issue in the region outside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and no real familiarity with any of them either.

Indeed, when he served first President George Herbert Walker Bush and then Clinton, he was accused of seeking to sideline knowledgeable and experienced U.S. Foreign Service officers whose expertise might possibly pose a challenge to his monopoly of the secretary of state's ear on foreign policy issues.

Major, traditionally pro-American leaders like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt can therefore be advised to try and establish their own personal direct links to the new president and secretary of state as soon as possible.

Having said that, at least Ross will be serving President Barack Obama and Clinton rather than Bush and Rice. We should be thankful for that.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017