Middle East Peace Still a U.S. Priority, Ross Tells J Street

By Nathan Guttman

Published February 28, 2011.

The Middle East’s current upheavals make it clear that moving forward on peace between Israel and the Palestinians is more, not less urgent than ever before, President Obama’s point man on the Middle East told conferees attending J Street’s annual Washington conference.

But Dennis Ross, the president’s closest advisor on issues related to Israel, declined to say when, or whether, Obama would roll out an administration proposal for bridging the gaps that have so far stymied any movement on the Israeli-Palestinian peace front for several years.

Still, Ross made clear that despite the rapidly changing landscape in the region, the U.S. wishes to promote a peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians. Drawing a line connecting the recent uprising in Egypt to the stalemate in the peace process, Ross said, “If Israel can view one lesson from the events in Egypt, it is the danger of getting stuck with an unsustainable status quo.”

In the course of his speech, Ross detailed the administration’s updated list of priorities for the Middle East and put support for Egypt in its transition and the demand for reform in other Arab regimes at the top of the list.

But Ross also conveyed a sense of urgency for promoting peace in the region, and stressed that “the conflict doesn’t become easier to solve over time.” Among the reasons he listed for moving forward with the peace process was a factor Ross described as “the biological clock” which is bringing to the region younger leaders to replace the old guard. This young generation taking over the region, Ross argued, needs to see that peace is a real possibility in the Middle East.

At the same time, Ross expressed an understanding of Israel’s concerns in facing the changing reality in the Middle East. “In this context and in the environment of uncertainty,” said Ross, it is important to reaffirm the administration’s “unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.”

Ross refused to go into the details of the U.S. plans for brokering peace in the Middle East and would not say if it was time for the Obama administration to role out its own peace plan.

The speech delivered by the president’s adviser on Middle East was carefully worded and did not include any reference to the hosting group – J Street. Last year, the administration sent James Jones, who was then Obama’s National Security Advisor, to speak at the conference. Jones, who received warm applause from the crowd, praised J Street’s work and pledged that the administration would make sure to send a representative to future J Street meetings. This year, Ross did not mention J Street in his speech and did not repeat the promise given by Jones last year.



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