If I truly thought this meant a major change in Barack Obama’s Middle East approach I’d be rejoicing at the news that Dennis Ross was resigning as the president’s go-to guy for anything regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict. He is one of the most pernicious influences in American policy going back decades. His allegiance is clearly to the Israelis and he clearly sees the Palestinians and Arabs in general as authors of their own misery. His approach to them has always been condescending as anyone can tell by reading the offers Mahmoud Abbas was entertaining from Israel and the U.S. in the Palestine Papers.
But the NY Times report, if true, indicates that Ross is leaving for personal, rather than policy reasons. This indicates that Obama policy will remain in the rut it’s been stuck in for ages. In fact, we can write off any major constructive intervention for the remainder of any Obama presidency. Which means that the next war, whether in Iran, Syria, Gaza or Lebanon is just around the corner. And when it breaks out we’ll have some Obama administration flack telling the world that Israel’s bombing of civilian targets will signify the birth pangs of democracy in the Middle East. With any luck those words might be spoken by a Secretary of State who actually experienced the real suffering of real birth pangs, unlike Condi Rice, who never did.
I don’t know how the rest of the world will react to this news. I can’t imagine it will motivate the Quartet or EU to take any new initiatives, which means the entire world is leaving it to two recalcitrant enemies to sort out their differences any which way they can–including by war if necessary. I wonder whether this might tend to make the world more sympathetic to Palestinian inspired initiatives like the one for Palestinian statehood. When a major power like the U.S. leaves a vacuum, other forces and factors come into play. Most will be negative, but some may be sleepers and surprise us, like BDS or the statehood initiative.
This is a sad day because it means that while a negative influence is gone from U.S. policymaking, no one and nothing is taking his place. This is the equivalent of benign neglect without the “benign.”