The Right Stuff: When Israel Knew How to Compromise

Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90

Two of the most prominent figures in America’s efforts to advance a two-state solution, Ambassador Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, take a deep look at four Israeli leaders and their pivotal decisions.

Their book, Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny, shows how the strength of these leaders lay in their vision of knowing when to make historic compromise.



This season of the Tel Aviv Review is made possible by The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, which promotes humanistic, democratic, and liberal values in the social discourse in Israel.

2 comments on “The Right Stuff: When Israel Knew How to Compromise

  1. Jon Shmueli says:

    Dennis Ross – How does someone who has been egregiously wrong on major decisions – and has admitted it – contiue to be considered an expert on the Middle East?

  2. Jon Shmueli says:

    Veteran Middle East peace processor Dennis Ross has admitted that he made a big mistake. Again. This time, he’s admitting he was wrong about Iran. Last time, he admitted he was wrong about Hamas. How many times is this guy going to get things wrong, before we all recognize that he’s not the one from whom we should be taking advice?

    Writing in the journal Foreign Policy this week, Ross offered this startling confession concerning the Obama administration’s policy toward anti-government protests in Iran:

    “In June 2009, I was serving in President Barack Obama’s administration as the secretary of state’s special advisor on Iran and was part of the decision-making process. Because we feared playing into the hands of the regime and lending credence to its claim that the demonstrations were being instigated from the outside, we adopted a low-key posture.

    “In retrospect, that was a mistake. We should have shined a spotlight on what the regime was doing and mobilized our allies to do the same; we should have done our best to provide news from the outside and to facilitate communication on the inside. We could have tried to do more to create social media alternatives, making it difficult for the regime to block some of these platforms.”

    Well, isn’t that just great? Eight years later, after all those Iranian protesters were crushed, jailed, probably tortured, maybe even in some cases killed, Dennis Ross says, “Oops!”

    That’w without mentioning the nuclear weapons issue that might have been avoided had the regime changed.

    For nearly thirty years, Dennis Ross has been advising presidents of the United States, sometimes from within the State Department, sometimes on the National Security Council. Most of his advice regarding the Middle East has involved trying to get the U.S. to adopt more pro-Palestinian policies.

    In 1989, Ross was one of the main forces behind the first U.S. recognition of Yasir Arafat and the PLO. Ross insisted that Arafat had genuinely given up terrorism. That blew up in President George H.W. Bush’s face the following year, when PLO-affiliated terrorists tried to attack Tel Aviv beachgoers and the U.S. embassy nearby. Bush broke off the PLO ties that Ross had so carefully cultivated. Ross has not yet publicly admitted that he was wrong about Arafat. Maybe one day he will.

    But in the meantime, he has already confessed to being completely wrong about Hamas. During the years Ross was a senior advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Hamas was starting to build tunnels to enable its terrorists to reach Israel from Gaza, and the Israelis began restricting the importation to Gaza of building materials that could be used for the tunnels. So the Obama administration sent Ross to the region–to pressure Israel.

    Ross later admitted—on the op-ed page of the Washington Post—what he did: “I argued with Israeli leaders and security officials, telling them they needed to allow more construction materials, including cement, into Gaza so that housing, schools and basic infrastructure could be built. They countered that Hamas would misuse it, and they were right.”

    Assured by the Obama administration’s insistence that the cement would not be used, Israel allowed it to be imported. The result? Hamas built “a labyrinth of underground tunnels, bunkers, command posts and shelters for its leaders, fighters and rockets,” Ross acknowledged. They built them with “an estimated 600,000 tons of cement,” some of which was “diverted from construction materials allowed into Gaza.” (Washington Post, Aug. 8, 2014)

    Despite this record of being consistently wrong on Israel and the Palestinians, Ross had the chutzpah to author another op-ed in the Washington Post on December 1, 2016, titled “Tips for Trump on the Middle East.” He has been similarly dishing out his “expert” advice on television talk shows and scholars conferences about the Middle East.

    Hosts of television talk shows have a wide range of scholars and experts whom they can invite. Op-ed editors have plenty of authors whom they can ask to share their opinions. Organizers of conferences have lots of speakers who would be glad to participate in their panels. Why keep going back to someone who, by his own admission, has been wrong again and again and again?

    Like a doctor who is guilty of malpractice, or a mediocre athlete who is past his prime, it’s time for Dennis Ross to find a profession that he’s actually good at—and it’s time for the rest of us to realize that Ross is not the expert that he presents himself to be.

    – Stephen M. Flatow

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