Former ambassador: Parties have only months to resolve Arab-Israeli conflict

Palestinian PresidentMahmoud Abbas is in arace against time to legitimizehis path to generatepeace in the Arab-Israeliconflict, said one Middle-East expert.Former ambassadorDennis Ross, who servedas chief Middle East peacenegotiator under PresidentsGeorge H. W. Bushand Bill Clinton, told anaudience in the DumkeAuditorium on Wednesdaythat negotiations musthappen now.Ross said he wanted toanswer the one questionregarding the Middle-Eastconflict that he hears everywhere:”Are you optimistic?”He answered with aconditional yes, warningthat if all parties don’t takeadvantage of the situationnow, it will be a very longtime before there is a newopportunity for peace.What must happen?Ross said groups likeHamas, al-Aqsa MartyrsBrigade and Hezbollahwill give Abbas sometime to establish himselfso they “don’t look likethey’re frustrating whatPalestinians want.” But,he added, “pretty soonthere will be attacks.””Right now, we have toshow our willingness. If[Abbas] goes down, wego down with him,” Rosssaid. “The only otheroption [the Palestinianpeople] have is Hamas. Ifwe miss this moment, thestakes are very high, andit will be a very long timebefore we will see anotheropportunity.”Ross said there was nopotential for change underformer PalestinianPresident Yasser Arafat,whom he referred to as a”someday politician.””He would come tolimited agreements, butwouldn’t end the conflict,”Ross said. “He thoughtsomeday something bettermight come along.”Now that Arafat is out,Ross said Israel, Palestineand the United States mustwork together to secure aceasefire and generate amutual understanding ofthe Roadmap to Peace,among other actions.He added that Arab oilstates, which often claim tocare so much about the Palestiniancause, must begin fundingPalestine.”All I want for the Palestiniansfrom the Arab oil states is1 percent” to finance housing,social priorities and security,Ross said.Despite the fellow Arabcountries’ failure to financePalestine, some issues arereaching the greater MiddleEast.In the wake of recent protestsin Lebanon, Ross saidsomething is changing in theMiddle East-the people areshedding their fears and takingto the streets in numbers.The same type of phenomenonis occurring in Palestine,he said.”They made the decision tohave elections, and they’ll havefour more this year,” Ross said.”These are potentially transformingsets of events, butwe’re still in transition.”He added that 84 percent ofPalestinian voters wanted toend chaos, 81 percent wantedto see the economy and normallife restored and 77 percentwanted talks restoredwith the Israelis.Inside negotiationsThe former ambassador alsoconveyed some inside storiesfrom years of service to PresidentClinton.In the months leading upto the Persian Gulf War, then-Secretary of State James Bakertraveled to each of the fivecountries on the United Nations’Security Council to solicittheir views.But Ross said that Baker toldhim the invasion of Iraq toprotect Kuwait was not contingenton the generation of acoalition, and the move to visitthe other U.N. nations wassimply to show their viewswere taken into account.”[Baker] told me, ‘We’re goingto stop this. If we have togo it alone, we’ll stop it,'” Rosssaid.He told another insider storyabout a May 4, 1994 ceremonyin Egypt, which he had persuadedthe secretary of stateto attend. However, the eventbecame awkward when, onlive television, Arafat refusedto sign peace documents.”Fifteen minutes into thesigning ceremony, Arafatstood up there before theworld and refused to sign themaps,” Ross said. “We got Arafatoff the stage and YitzhakRabin said to him, ‘What’syour problem?'”It turned out Arafat wantedRabin to agree, in writing, tospecific discussions regardingJericho.”What neither one of themknew was that at 2:30 in themorning when we had concluded[the previous night],I had put it in writing, andthey both already signed this,”Ross said. “But one of the firstthings you learn as a diplomatis when people agree, youdon’t interrupt.”The underlying point Rossexpressed was a desire to keeptrying.”When it comes to the Mid-East peace process, the onething we’ve never had is luck,”Ross said.But he added the UnitedStates’ image is improving asit begins to stand for democracyin general.If the hard work continues,it could eventually lead toluck. The Lebanese may helpprovide change, but Iraq isonly one factor, he said.”Bush has said we can’t restuntil we see this resolved.How that will translate intobehavior is yet to be seen.”[email protected]