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CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Appearing considerably greyer than when he began negotiating the Oslo peace process for the Clinton Administration 18 years ago, former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross addressed Harvard University’s first Israel Conference April 20 on the topic of “Innovating the Peace Process”.
A month earlier, the same auditorium hosted Harvard’s “One State Conference,” produced by Students for Justice in Palestine and other assorted anti-Israel student groups. Roiled by the controversy of being hosted by Harvard’s prestigious Kennedy School of Government, the “One State Conference” welcomed veteran Israel-bashers Ilan (“The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”) Pappe, Stephen (“Israel Lobby”) Walt and Ali (“Electronic Intifadah”) Abunimah, among others.
In spite of being planned before the anti-Israel conference, the latest program’s focus on cooperation with Palestinian business ventures and Israel’s remarkable technological innovations stood in stark contrast to the One State Conference, whose self-proclaimed goal was the supposed peaceful elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.
Ross currently serves as counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy after resigning last November as special adviser to Hillary Clinton on Iran and Southeast Asia, reportedly after clashing with George Mitchell during his failed attempt to secure a permanent settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict for the Obama Administration. Overall, he has served as a Middle East adviser for five U.S. presidents.
At Harvard April 20, Ross’s appetite for a second bite of the apple—or, perhaps his 10th bite—amounted to proposing a “hybrid model” for Arab-Israeli negotiations, this time around an amalgam of two previous models. First, the “incremental” model, in which each side fulfills step-by-step conditions. Second, the “comprehensive” model, that goes straight to final settlement negotiations ultimately producing a new Palestinian state including East Jerusalem, and a durable peace including Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. There have been so many proposed models that it’s hard to keep them straight. But don’t worry, said Ross, this time it’s sure to work.
Of course, there is one critical component of the “hybrid,” echoing the sine qua non of Ross’s former boss, President Obama: Freezing (and dismantling) of “settlements” must accompany final status negotiations. He reminded his audience of this provision, contained in 2002’s so-called Road Map. But, he chose not to mention the crucial provision from the Israeli point of view that calls for all armed Arab factions to be disarmed and disbanded. It would seem that some provisions are created more equal than others.
In addition to Ross’s latest model, there’s another one described by its brilliant author, Ambassador Henny Youngman—the “eternal look-the-other-way model”:
“My doctor gave me six months to live. I didn’t pay the bill—so he gave me another six months.”
When it came to confronting Palestinian terror and the refusal to educate their people for a culture of peace and coexistence, Ross and his employers were always ready to give another six months.
Or, perhaps the Albert Einstein model applies: “Insanity amounts to doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” At any rate, Dennis Ross would love to get back in the game.
Sadly, the nearly 20-year-old peace process has become a self-sustaining industry, producing lucrative incomes and prestigious accolades for people who have accomplished exactly nothing in terms of solving the conflict. Still packing halls around the world, Ross represents certainly not the triumph of diplomacy, but rather its abject failure. One questioner seemed to nail it when he suggested that all these years of failed “models” may have produced more conflict than would have occurred in the absence of any peace process.
Inexplicably, for Ross and his employers, the Palestinians never conformed to the logical models set up for them. It would seem that Arafat and Abu Mazen were reading from a different script. And when all else fails, put more pressure on Israel—it’s a proven tactic that works for Labor and Likud and everything in between.
This season’s latest model from Ross is the “hybrid.” But, alas, the Middle East will suffer buyer’s remorse when it finds out that its new car gets zero miles per gallon.
Hillel Stavis is a writer based in Cambridge, Mass. He focuses on investigative reporting on Harvard University and the Boston higher education community.