Roger L. Simon

Optimism from Ross

Dennis Ross–the man who has devoted his life to Israeli/Palestinian peace–sees cause for optimism in this WaPo oped this morning. Ross recently journeyed to Gaza where he spoke in front of the leadership. For the first time, he saw Palestinians publicly taking responsibility for their actions.

As someone who probably dealt with Yasser Arafat more than any non-Palestinian, I can safely say that Palestinian responsibility was never on his agenda. Arafat made being a victim a strategy, not just a condition, and thus Palestinians were entitled, never responsible. Yet, here in Gaza, no one challenged those Palestinians who raised questions about their responsibilities. And while most of the comments directed to me were about America’s responsibility to right the wrongs done to the Palestinians, some in the audience picked up my challenge to recognize that the United States could help the Palestinians only if they were prepared to fulfill their obligations, particularly on security. Indeed, when I declared that there would be no Palestinian state born of violence — with the leading proponents of that violence sitting there — several Palestinians responded by saying that violence was a mistake and nothing would be achieved by it.

What struck me about these comments was that there was no hesitancy to make them. With the opposition sitting there, with the entire conference being conducted in Arabic and televised throughout the Middle East, declaring that violence against the Israelis was wrong bore no stigma and apparently little risk. Declaring that Palestinians had responsibilities to fulfill was also treated as legitimate, not sacrilegious.

Some day someone should do a study of politicians who “play the victim.” I think it will be shown to be about as fruitful as family members who do the same. Meanwhile, let’s hope Ross is not just being optimistic.

UPDATE: The Big Trunk is more wary of Ross’s article than I am. It’s easy to see BT’s point, but then Ross is a diplomat. It’s his job to move things forward. It’s our job to make sure Ross’s optimism is more than self-delusion. In any case, Ross does conclude in this manner:

Palestinians who believe in ending violence and in coexistence failed to deliver in the summer of 2003, when Abbas was prime minister. He and the reformers will shortly have a second chance. If they fail this time, they won’t get a third.