Ambassador says Arab Awakening is a 'transforming
development,' but change won't come quickly.
October 25 • 2012
Ross speak about changes in the Middle East.
provide help, but you have to play
by a set of rules, and our principles
guide these rules."
Given Egyptian reliance on U.S.
and international aid, and the need
for the Muslim Brotherhood gov-
ernment to succeed in governing,
he believes there is an impetus to
uckle up and prepare yourself
for a bumpy ride to an uncertain
destination — that was the mes-
sage from former_U.S. Ambassador Dennis
Ross to the nearly 400 people who came
to hear his take on "Peace on the Middle
East: Is it Still Possible" Oct. 15 - at the West
Bloomfield Jewish Community Center.
Ross, who joined the State Department
during the first Reagan Administration,
was President Clinton's special Middle East
coordinator during the Camp David peace
process. He most recently served two years
as special assistant to President Barack
Obama and a year as special adviser to
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, focus-
ing on Iran. He left government service at
the end of 2011, but remains intimately
involved personally and as counselor for the
Washington Institute on Near East Policy, a
well-regarded Israel-friendly think tank.
Ross eschews the term "Arab Spring,"
often used to describe recent political and
social upheavals in the Middle East because
"it implies that change is going to come rap-
idly, and that it will grow and there will be a
new Middle East characterized by freedom
That's too much for even this experienced
and optimistic American-Jewish diplomat
to expect given the distance the Arab world
needs to travel to get close to establishing
and embracing a democratic system char-
acterized by more than free — and possibly
one-time — elections.
Instead, Ross sees an "Arab Awakening,"
where "people see themselves as citizens
rather than subjects:' Ross calls this "a
transforming development" because sub-
jects are at the mercy of the regimes and
are used to carrying out their aims, while
citizens have the standing and means to
make claims on government and hold them
"The desire to have accountability is ter-
rific, but the institutions for accountability
do not exist," Ross said. Rather than counting
in seasons, he advises counting in decades:
at least one and two wouldn't be a surprise.
A large crowd turned out to hear Ambassador
Iran & the Peace Process
Ambassador Dennis Ross
Transformation in Egypt
The Islamists have jumped to the forefront
because "they have all the advantages:'
Ross said. "The regimes wanted to create a
binary relationship: either state or mosque.
They did not allow for secular or liberal
society to develop.
"The Islamists had credibility; they were
not seen as corrupt:' he said, but "now that
they control the [Egyptian] presidency and
parliament, they cannot escape responsibil-
ity. They dominate the key political institu-
tions in society" with the notable and posi-
tive exception of the judiciary.
Seeing a need for Egyptian democracy
to grow organically — "we are not the ones
writing this story" — he suggests the U.S.
set principles that will serve their interests
as well as ours. They would include respect-
ing minority rights, educating and includ-
ing woman, maintaining political pluralism,
ensuring repeatable elections and fulfilling
international obligations typified by the
peace treaty with Israel.
"In private we should be very clear:' he
said, "while in public we need to be careful
so they don't develop an issue of offending
their pride. We can tell them that we can
Turning to Iran, Ross said "crip-
pling sanctions" are now in place
regarding Iran's nuclear program.
"Iran is paying a massive price for
the first time. They have to come to
believe that the failure of diplomacy
is more disastrous for them than
for the United States."
Citing evidence that Iran has suc-
cumbed to pressure before, he said,
"Iranians are looking for a way out,
but if what they are willing to offer
meets our requirements remains to
"Next year will be decisive — either
we will have a diplomatic outcome or the
chance of military confrontation increases
None of this bodes well for progress on
the Israeli-Palestinian peace front.
"[The Arab Awakening] has had a chill-
ing effect on both the Israeli leadership and
the Palestinian leadership:' explained Ross.
"Israel said, 'How do we know the Muslim
Brotherhood isn't going to replace the
Palestinian Authority?' and the Palestinians
say, 'Anything I do to proceed is going to
create a backlash; it is too risky:"
The risks are seen as greater than the
possible rewards because of deep distrust.
"Israelis disbelieve that the Palestinians are
committed to a two-state outcome. On the
Palestinian side, you have a mirror image:'
"You've got to change the dynamic...
We have to fight the disbelief that there is
a partner for a two-state solution. We have
to promote those who believe in reconcilia-
tion:' he said.
While some suggest unilateral moves to
break the stalemate — Israel to annex some
areas and leave others, the Palestinians to
turn to the United Nations — Ross cautions
"I've never been a big fan of unilateralism
because all it breeds is more unilateralism,"
he said, citing the growth of Hezbollah
after Israel left Lebanon and the growth of
Hamas after Israel left the Gaza Strip.
Ross proposes 14 suggested actions that
can set an "agenda for discussion." Most of
them are ways to strengthen the belief in
both societies in a two-state outcome. Israel
would prepare to move people back behind
its security wall and allow the Palestinian
Authority greater power to conduct its own
affairs. Palestinians would acknowledge
Jewish history in the region, teach that
Israel and its right to security are legitimate,
resettle those mired in refugee camps and
build accountable government.
He would remind Israelis: "The
Palestinian issue is not going away. You
can't wish it away. The demographic issue is
not going away. Something has to be done."
To Palestinians he'd say: "Start to build
your own state and the rule of law; it is
what your people want, and it is in step
with the region. And it lets the Israelis
The program was sponsored by the
American Jewish Committee, the Anti-
Defamation League and the Jewish
Community Relations Council.
"Very informative and very clear:' is
how Dottie Harwood of West Bloomfield,
who attended with two friends, described
Ross' talk. "I liked how he touched on very
significant topics and gave very complete
Sen. Carl and Barbara Levin and Rep.
Sander Levin attended Ross' talk.