With Israel facing extraordinary challenges in the Mideast, it is losing a key advocate in the White House.
Dennis Ross, a Mideast adviser to five presidents, once was derided as one of “Baker’s Boys” during the administration of President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker. More recently, though, he has been viewed as a confidante and friend of Israeli leaders. He is leaving his post at the end of the year, an implicit signal that the U.S. effort to break the Israeli-Palestinian impasse is on hold until after the 2012 election.
Ross’s departure, six months after George Mitchell stepped down as the top Mideast envoy in the administration, underscores Obama’s failure to make good on early pledges to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
It was Ross who put a stop to Obama’s very public campaign insisting on a complete settlement freeze on Israel’s part, signaling to the Palestinian Authority that it could do no less before resuming negotiations. And Ross, who will return to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Mideast think tank, was a key voice for increasing pressure on Iran as it moves ahead with its nuclear program.
The Mideast landscape is in great flux now. The fact that the Arab League has acted against Syrian President Bashar Assad and that Jordan’s King Abdullah has called on his neighbor in Damascus to step down is remarkable. A Syria without Assad could mean a boost for the majority Sunni population, and for Israel. But it could also mean that Iran, or its proxy, Hezbollah, would fill the vacuum.
Syria in flux is just one example of the chaos in the region, much of it particularly worrisome for Israel. The latest United Nations report gives more credence to the view that Iran is advancing its effort to create a nuclear bomb, the Arab Spring is morphing into a Muslim Fall that could translate into Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government in Egypt, and America is perceived as weak and confused by the Arab world.
A shift in the balance of power in the region has shown a rise in non-Arab states like Iran and Turkey, once an ally of Israel that has become increasingly belligerent. And the Palestinian Authority is seeking to achieve statehood by avoiding rather than engaging in peace talks.
This sense of decline and uncertainty in the Arab world means that Israel must bolster its security, particularly in the Sinai, which has been prone to terrorism. The Netanyahu government seems less than eager to make any bold moves regarding the Palestinians, but history has proven that the status quo is dangerous as well.
Former critics of Dennis Ross may soon be missing his voice of reason in the White House.