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The Return of the Peace Processors

Dennis Ross, who is expected to occupy a high station in an Obama administration, gave an interview to the Israeli daily Haaretz and provided a best-case argument for peace-process fetishism. On Iran:

Obama wants to use our willingness to talk as a means to get others to actually apply more pressure on the Iranians, as a way to ensure the talks’ success, but also because the talks themselves send a signal [to] those who fear [that] applying more pressure means you’re descending toward a slippery slope of confrontation.

On Syria:

I believe we should try it, too. I think it’s a mistake not to. Too often when you don’t talk – as I said before – you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just because you make the effort doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. But at least you ought to see if you can do it, you ought to do it with your eyes open, without illusions, without naivete, but it’s worth probing and testing.

On the Palestinians:

I think this is an issue where engagement is also crucial, but, much like Iran, it is an engagement without illusions. When you engage, you do so without illusions. But when you don’t engage, you leave the way open for your adversaries to actually gain more. The Bush administration wanted to disengage for its first six years in office. [By doing so] they actually strengthened Hamas’ hand, because Hamas’ argument is [that] there is no possibility for peace. The least you want to do is show that there could be an alternative answer.

In Dennis Ross’ imagination, peace-processing is a risk-free proposition. This is astonishing coming from a man whose last peace process culminated in a four-year Palestinian terror onslaught. There might be little hope that talking will accomplish anything, Ross argues, but non-processing will not accomplish anything, plus it has downsides: it vindicates radicals, whose greatest fear is the “alternative answer” of peace.

Ross still can’t come to terms with the Palestinian polling data, which indicate that those he defines as extremists — those who reject the two-state solution — are in fact a majority of Palestinians. Maybe we should call them mainstreamists. Peace-process critics believe that Ross has it backwards: it is the radicals that the peace process in fact vindicates, because it provides them a fragile initiative to destroy at a time of their choosing, humiliating Palestinian moderates and embarrassing the United States. If you want to ensure the continued relevance of the “extremists,” hold a peace process. They love peace processes. They’re a growth opportunity for terrorists.

Ross sees the peace process as a permanent comfort, regardless of circumstances. This is the foreign policy version of the Motel 6 slogan: we’ll leave the light on for you. Except the people he’s leaving the light on for are going to come to your motel room in the middle of night, trash the place, steal the television, and murder your family.

When you negotiate peace with people who do not actually want peace, you give them something important while gaining nothing for yourself. Syria would love a peace process, because it would exculpate Syria’s gangster regime from its assassination of the Lebanese prime minister in 2005 and allow Assad to emerge from the isolation he has suffered since that appalling act. The Palestinian terror organizations would still be headquartered in Damascus, Hezbollah’s armaments would still flow across the Syrian border, and the killers of American soldiers would still be welcome to use Syria as a transfer point to Iraq. Dennis Ross’ talks will reinforce a lesson that the United States has unfortunately been teaching Middle East thugs for a long time: there will always be an expiration date, very soon in the future, for U.S. outrage at their behavior, if they just wait us out.


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