Berkeley, California, October 16th — Dennis Ross, chief negotiator of the Oslo agreement came to the UC Berkeley campus today to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Ross, who personally negotiated between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak outlined the current situation in the Middle East and what was needed to move forward.

After first digressing by laying out the case for the Bush administration’s need to go after Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, in which he explained the Iraqi leaders’ continual violations of weapons inspections agreed on by the Iraqi dictator since the Gulf War he then went on to discuss the situation between Israel and the Palestinians.. Ross emphasized the main problem to successful negotiations was that neither side “trusted” the other. During his speech he acknowledged and even criticized the Palestinian tactic of constantly portraying itself as a victim of Israeli agression and even of lying about what was orignally offered at Camp David and Oslo.

Describing the current Israeli government as “the most forthcoming government in history” for its peace offers, Ross agreed those offers were unreasonably met with violence. He further stated he understood that Israel feels its existence is threatened, something which was further supported by his description of Hizbollah’s missiles amassed on Israel’s northern frontier.

Still, the sense of “moral equivalency” between Israel and the Palestinians hung heavily in the air. Ross stated Israelis understand the need for the situation to change and can change if they have a viable partner. Ross pointed to the “new authentic Palestinian reform movement” as the key to this end. Pointing out that the Palestinian newspaper Al Hayat had openly run a column asking if Israeli tanks were really responsible for all the poverty and corruption in the PA, Ross stated that a viable Palestinian reform movement was emerging to replpace Arafat. The recent seige of the Mukata had rendered Arafat an even greater failure to his people despite enhancing him as a symbol to them of “Palestinian resistance”. This concept of an “authentic” reform movement being the route to successful negotiations to the situation sounded good to the audience but lacked any comprehension or compassion for the real situation on the ground.While Ross negotiates, Israelis are blown up and maimed.

As the speech continued, Ross criticized PM Sharon as showing “violence is futile” and seemed to feel a dimunition of such “violence” would lead to a strenghtening of the reformers with whom serious negotiations could take place. And it was here that his speech, in a auditorium on an American university campus, no doubt the same as in a secure office at Washington, lost touch with reality.

Although Ross acknowledged over 600 Israelis had been murdered by Palestinian terrorism, his detached regard for this as only a detail as a part of negotiations completely ignored the situation on the ground for the average Israeli. The reform movement among the Palestinians he spoke so hopefully about has shown in the past that any renunciations against terrorism and violence might be controlled not because they are inherently wrong, but simply “unsuccessful” in meeting Palestinian goals. It almost seemd that as a professional negotiator Ross was more interested in having two sides to tell him what he wants to hear to conduct a successful negotaiton on paper, completely ignoring past history.

Even before Oslo the Palestinians have always said and still do today that any parts of Israel obtained by surrender or negotaitons from the Jewish State shall serve as a new Palestinian State from which the rest of Israel will be obtained later. Ross, by outlining and agreeing that Arafat had been offered a fantastic deal with Oslo, and that Abu Amar had actually hurt his own people because of it, seemd to think that reformers among the Palestinians opposed to Arafat’s corruption for some reason would be equally open to a genuine peace with Israel. At best this is incredibly naive.

Nowhere during his speech did Ross touch on incitement in Palestinian schools and media, nor did he touch upon the fact that Palestinian security forces responsible for any workable peace are the same terrorist squads attacking Israelis on the ground every day. Palestinian reformers might make the day to day existence of the average Palestinian better by isolating Arafat with a new government and Prime Minister. But it is folly to think the fundamental goal, the diismantling of Israel will ever be forgotten. And to fault Sharon as being at fault for the violence for defending Israelis on the ground is reprehensible.

In fairness, Ross did disucss the demographics of the Arab birthrate and alluded to a one man one vote situation by 2029 leading to demise of the Jewish State.

As usual, he criticized the continual building of settlements in Judea and Samaria as being illogical to creating a lasting peace. Yet it is precisely because of the threatening sitaution that Israel needs to secure such settlements in her own national security interest no matter how much of a negotiating obstacle they may seem to be in the one on one negotiations between Ross and his Palestinian “reformers” he puts so much credibility in.

Ross lamented that neither side “listens”. After critiquing Arafat’s habit of lying about what he rejected at Camp David and asking simply “If you don’t like the deal that was offered just say why, but don’t lie and say you were offered something else”, Ross seemd to think refomers “listen” better and might make Israelis do the same. Yes, the “new” Palestinians might listen at the negotiating table, but once they get what they want, the ultimate aim of dismantling Israel will still be there with the same terrorist security forces to back it up. Is it any wonder that Israel doesn’t “listen”?