Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dennis Ross: Failed Former Point Person

In an interview with Deborah Solomon of the New York Times (February 6, 2006), America's former chief Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross blames Hamas's victory in the recent Palestinian elections on the Bush administration's failure to be more fully engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to have a point person such as himself:

"Some people see the Israeli pullout from Gaza last summer as the turning point in all this, because the local economy collapsed and left Palestinians feeling as if no one was in charge. The expectations were that life would get better. Well, it got worse. It became completely lawless and the jobs disintegrated as well. You needed someone to spearhead the pledging of assistance and the delivery of assistance. The U.S. could have done that. But we didn't have a point person."

Lest we forget, consider these points about Ross's tenure as point person, which entailed his playing a substantive role in shaping Clinton Administration policy during the Oslo years:

• Hamas's victory was in part a reaction against the corruption brought to the territories by Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. The Clinton Administration, with Ross as point man, never forcefully pushed for Palestinian reform and an end to corruption. It essentially supported Israeli policies that contributed to PA malfeasance - such as Israel's depositing tax receipts due the Palestinians under Oslo directly to Arafat's personal accounts, some 2 billion dollars, rather than to any accountable recipient. In addition, when Israel occasionally balked at the transfers in the wake of terrorist attacks, the U.S. Administration, with its point man Ross, pressed for their resumption.

• The Administration, with Ross as point man, never aggressively pushed for a sustained PA crackdown on Hamas terror or for the PA's dismantling of Hamas's terror infrastructure, as required by Oslo. It never, for example, made such steps a requirement for continued American aid.

• The PA promoted, in its media, mosques and schools, hatred of Israel and the message that Jews have no legitimate claim to any part of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean and their state should be destroyed. Arafat and his confederates routinely praised those who carried out terrorist acts, including Hamas's "martyrs," and urged Palestinian youth to emulate them. The Clinton Administration, with Ross as point man, never seriously pushed for an end to PA incitement, as called for in Oslo. As with its weakness regarding terror, it never made the cessation of incitement a condition for additional American aid.

• In 1996, in the wake of an unprecedented wave of anti-Israel terror following Arafat's arrival in the territories, Israel elected Benjamin Netanyahu prime minister. Netanyahu insisted there would be no further Israeli concessions until Arafat and the PA lived up to those earlier Oslo agreements obliging them to halt terror, dismantle the infrastructures of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and end incitement in PA media, mosques and schools. The U.S. Administration, with Ross as point man, rather than supporting Netanyahu, instead consistently pressured Israel to undertake additional concessions despite the Palestinians' failure to change their pattern of noncompliance with the anti-terror and anti-incitement clauses of the Oslo accords.

Given that record, as we consider Hamas's election victory, we can also be confident that things would be still worse had President Bush emulated his predecessor in utilizing the services of a point person such as Dennis Ross.