April 18, 2002
In his featured speech to the crowd assembled for the Yom HaShoah program at Sinai Temple, Ambassador Dennis Ross, the diplomatic point man for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process during previous administrations of George Bush and Bill Clinton, acknowledged his disappointment in the current violence and outlined what he views as the likely possibilities for the conflict.
"The Palestinian people are being victimized. We have to ask ourselves who is responsible," Ross said. "I was at the negotiating table when Arafat had a chance to end the occupation." Now, he said, "It is a war. Arafat helped to bring that war on."
Noting that "it doesn't matter" whether Arafat is unwilling or unable to stop suicide bombers, he said, "It is hard to escape the conclusion that we have crossed that threshold, where peaceful coexistence is no longer possible."
Ross laid out three options he views as possible solutions to the current fighting.
First, the "bypass Arafat" option, which he also referred to as the "exile" option. Though the suggestion that Israel "can't deal with [Arafat] anymore" drew spontaneous applause from the crowd, Ross emphasized that "you don't beat something with nothing," and Israel would still need a political solution, with or without Arafat.
Ross' second option is the ideal -- create a timeline of responsibilities, starting with security for both sides. Ross shared, based on his experience negotiating with both men, what he feels is the major difference between Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon. With Sharon, he said, "it is hard to get him to make commitments, because he actually believes he has to fulfill them."
And so, Ross arrived at the third option, "not one I have personally favored," he said, but one that "probably will happen." The third option is unilateral separation, in which the Israelis withdraw completely from the settlements and build a wall between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The unilateral move is "not a solution," but "a way station."
"I'd like to be more hopeful," Ross said, "but I can't be right now." -- M.L.