April 28, 2005

Ambassador Ross Talks on Mideast

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Ambassador Dennis Ross spoke to a packed Statler Auditorium last night in a lecture entitled “Finding the Missing Peace? The Middle East in 2005.” The lecture was part of Ross’ visit to Cornell as the Henry E. and Nancy Horton Bartels World Affairs Fellow.

Ross used the knowledge and experience he gained as chief Middle East peace negotiator under President Bill Clinton and director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Office under President George H.W. Bush to offer his analysis of the watershed moment facing the region today.

“The depth of his experience in the region and his consistent belief that peace is a possibility made him a very thought-provoking lecturer,” said President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77.

Ross began by addressing the recent changes that have taken place in the Middle East and the events he attributes those changes to. According to Ross, the overwhelmingly successful elections in Iraq and the Palestinian Authority, along with Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon and talks of democratic reforms in Egypt and other Arab regimes, have created a culture of optimism in the Middle East.

Among the causes he mentioned were the death of Yasser Arafat, the democratic revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine and what he saw as Arab media giant Al-Jazeera’s questioning of the status quo.

Ross was careful to dispel common misconceptions.

“We have not had a peace process [for the last four years] and we don’t have one now,” Ross said. “We’re engaged in trying to end what has been a war.”

Although he made it clear that the Israelis and Palestinians are not now engaged in a peace process, he outlined his view of how the international community can help create one.

Ross stressed that we are in a moment not for creating peace, but for creating the conditions for peace.

In order to create those conditions, “we have to ensure that people see that real change happens on the ground,” Ross said.

Ross described the success of newly-elected Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as the most important condition for securing peace. He contrasted the corrupt, inept Arafat with Abbas, who he said has embraced peace, democratic reforms, non-violence and coexistence.

In order to seize the opportunity Abbas’ leadership presents, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza need to see real results.

“To have authority, he has to show that his way works,” Ross said.

Ross described the international community’s responsibility to help Abbas prove that his way works. By serving as independent mediators and providing economic assistance to build infrastructure and improve standards of living, the quartet of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia can effect real change in the region, Ross said.

“Nothing implements itself by itself,” Ross said of the potential for peace. “We have to make it succeed.”

If either Abbas’ rule or Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan fails, Ross explained, the peace process will fail in turn.

Ross noted that a similar initiative from the West would be required to end the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

“[Ross] is someone who has lived and breathed the region and its conflicts for the past ten years and I was impressed with his mastery of the details,” said Prof. Ross Brann, chair of Cornell’s Near Eastern Studies Department. “I was also impressed by the ease with which he interacted with students. He took a real interest in the students and took their questions seriously.”

Students and local residents seemed to share Brann’s sentiments.

“I thought the lecture was extremely informative. He really outlined the timeliness of all these issues, what needs to be done and what’s going to happen in the coming months,” said Liz Elkiss ’05.

Others were amazed by the depth and breadth of Ross’ explanations.

“I was really impressed with his grasp of the situation,” said Dan Hickman ’07. “I’m glad we have people like him in our government making a difference.”

Archived article by Joshua Goldman
Sun Staff Writer