The Dissembling of Dennis Ross

It is time someone in the mainstream media (besides my hard-working friend Scott MacLeod, here and here) took to task Dennis Ross, the AIPAC man who served the first Bush Adminsitration and then Clinton as a Middle East mediator, before returning to the AIPAC fold — but who is treated by the U.S. media as some sort of yoda figure, the fount of jedi wisdom in managing the Middle East.

Having presided over the failure of the U.S. to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, he now puts himself forward as a sage among sages (lately by writing a book about “statecraft” in which he introduces some of the .101s of diplomacy as if these were prophetic revelations, and always evading the policy failures he helped author). More insidious, however, are his efforts to shape the U.S. response to the current situation in the Palestinian territories.

That the U.S. should be talking to Hamas is blindingly obvious to anyone who believes in settling conflicts peacefully, and there are plenty of reasons to believe Hamas is open to a pragmatic dialogue — not least the fact that it’s leaders keep stressing the fact that they want to talk. But Ross exposes the hardline gatkes he has on beneath that pragmatic suit in his latest contribution to the New Republic (where Likudnik gatkes are something of a uniform, I suppose.)

Ross opens thus: “It may be fashionable among some in Washington or even Tel Aviv to believe that it is time to talk to Hamas. But to the members of Fatah and the Palestinian independents in the West Bank with whom I have been meeting, it surely is not. What you hear from them is that Hamas is made up of killers; that they want to be part of a larger Islamist empire; that they are already trying to bring Iran to Gaza; and that the worse thing to do now is to reward Hamas with recognition.”

Do you think we were born yesterday, Dennis? Have you bothered to ask yourself what the agenda of these Fatah members and Palestinian independents you are taking to might be? And why it is that they’re sounding like they’re running for office in the U.S. and seeking AIPAC endorsement? Could it be, Dennis, that you’ve managed to unearth a Palestinian Chalabi or two? Mazeltov, it took you long enough… “Hamas is made up of killers…” That’s straight out of Bush’s mouth. And what of Fatah, Dennis? No killers in Fatah? And does this mean that the Palestinian electorate has opted to be ruled by killers? (I guess that would be a convenient propaganda line for the purposes of those, like yourself, Dennis, who have now deemed it necessary to shut down Palestinian democracy.)

“They want to be part of an Islamist empire…” Puhleeze. No serious student of Hamas sees it as affiliated with the Qaeda vision, Dennis, and its leaders have made abundantly clear that their is a national and nationalist project. It has always refrained from attacking the U.S. and rebuffed efforts to enlist it for any “global jihad.” Its refusal to recognize Israel has nothing to do with religion — in fact, if you went to the Fatah base now and asked them if they would withdraw that recognition if they could, as much as half would answer yes. (That’s pretty much what happened in a Western funded survey of Palestinian opinion six months into the Western financial siege.)

Hamas’s number 2, Abu Marzook, recently explained its position in an L.A. Times Op Ed:

The sticking point of “recognition” has been used as a litmus test to judge Palestinians. Yet as I have said before, a state may have a right to exist, but not absolutely at the expense of other states, or more important, at the expense of millions of human individuals and their rights to justice. Why should anyone concede Israel’s “right” to exist, when it has never even acknowledged the foundational crimes of murder and ethnic cleansing by means of which Israel took our towns and villages, our farms and orchards, and made us a nation of refugees?

Why should any Palestinian “recognize” the monstrous crime carried out by Israel’s founders and continued by its deformed modern apartheid state, while he or she lives 10 to a room in a cinderblock, tin-roof United Nations hut? These are not abstract questions, and it is not rejectionist simply because we have refused to abandon the victims of 1948 and their descendants.

… Israel, which has never formally adopted a constitution of its own but rather operates through the slow accretion of Basic Laws, declares itself explicitly to be a state for the Jews, conferring privileged status based on faith in a land where millions of occupants are Arabs, Muslims and Christians.

You may not agree, Dennis, but don’t tell me this man is arguing on the basis of some sort of intractable religious logic; it’s simple nationalism grounded in the lived history of the Palestinians.

Ross even falls into the crudest Likudnik habit of linking Qaeda-style jihadism and Iranian ambitions. Hamas, he warns us, via his Palestinian sources, “has already begun to bring Iran into Gaza.” Right, and al-Qaeda, too, according to Abbas, crying wolf in the hope of getting what he wants out of Washington. (Iran and al-Qaeda are fighting each other in Iraq, are we now to expect similar outbreaks in Gaza? This is just daft. The idea that Hamas is “Shiite” has long been a propaganda standard among Fatah gunmen, but it has no basis in reality. )

Dennis, you know very well that Hamas is not Hizballah; its ideological orientation comes from the Muslim Brotherhood organizations in the Sunni Arab countries; its ties with Iran are secondary, although it is happy to get Tehran’s support. You also know very well, Dennis, that most of Hamas’s external funding came from the Gulf Arab states. But, of course, the Bush Administration cut off all that funding, not by convincing the Arabs not to send it, but by making the price of doing so being cut out of the U.S. banking system. So, you cut all of Hamas’s sources of funds other than Iran, and then you run to the rooftops shouting, “Look, they’re getting money from Iran!” Mazeltov, again, Dennis, you’re really good at this.

Dennis’s sources, who I can only imagine must be from that handful of corrupted Fatah chaps who have thrown in their lot with the U.S. — but who are increasingly beleaguered even within Fatah as more and more of the leadership looks to distance itself from Washington and reconcile with Hamas, must be getting a little desperate. He writes:

“For that reason, you also hear criticism of the Saudis who are pressing Mahmoud Abbas to reconcile with Hamas and forge a new national unity government. Indeed, I was struck by the almost unanimous sentiment that the reconciliation talks which both the Saudis and Egyptians are pushing–and Hamas leaders like Ismail Haniyeh favor–will not change Hamas’s behavior. Instead, the story goes, Hamas will use them as a tactic to try to build its international acceptability. Worse, it would use a new national unity government to try to do in the West Bank what it has now done in Gaza.”

The Saudis and Egyptians hate Hamas, and are threatened by it, but they’re not stupid, Dennis. They’re pressing for rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas because they know that Hamas is currently more representative than Fatah of the Palestinian people, and that there is neither peace nor stability to be achieved by maintaining the fiction that Mahmoud Abbas can speak on behalf of the Palestinians without the consent their elected government. If there was any other way to make Hamas disappear, Dennis, you can be sure the Saudis and particularly the Egyptians would jump at it.

Ross tells us that the Palestinians are predominantly secular, and were more alienated from Fatah than attracted to Hamas. Well, yes, Dennis, and Hamas seems to know and respect that. They don’t appear to be trying to enforce Shariah law in Gaza, do they? But what Dennis the Sage appears to avoid is to ask the question why are Palestinians alienated from Fatah?
Yes, Dennis, I know, you’ll tell yourself that the answer is corruption, even as the Administration continues to coddle the most corrupt element in Fatah. But the true answer is simply that Fatah lost its way; the Palestinian electorate could see that its path of negotiation, much of it under Ross’s stewardship, had only brought the Palestinians more settlements and checkpoints. They could see that Sharon had no intention of ending the occupation. And frankly, I think many of their leaders tacitly recognized that Fatah had abandoned its national goals, which accelerated the onset of an “every man for himself” ethos of corruption.

Ross claims that “creating new institutions in the PA will inevitably build the credibility of the PA and, by extension, the credibility of Fatah.” Uh, Dennis… You can’t build the PA’s institutions while ignoring its legal and democratically elected government. Prime Minister Fayyad may be quite the favorite in Washington, but he has a little problem — his government has not been, nor will it be approved by the Palestinian legislature. It is not really a legal government, Dennis. You either build democratic institutions, or you build Fatah — how on earth can you even suggest that the two are interchangeable?

Plainly, Dennis Ross is scrambling for logical arguments to support a patently flawed policy. He gets even more when he suggests that it’s crucial for the Fatah old guard to step aside and be replaced by a new generation of leaders capable of rebuilding the organization’s credibility. Good idea, Dennis. Except that the next generation of Fatah leaders, led by Marwan Barghouti from his Israeli prison cell, are advocating the exact opposite of your Fatah sources — they want Fatah to distance itself from the disastrous U.S. positions and reconcile with Hamas.

What Dennis Ross is advocating is a strategy that repeats all of the worst mistakes of the past decade of U.S. policy in the Middle East, and is bound to fail. Sooner or later, the U.S. and Israel will be forced to reckon with the political choices of the Palestinians, which will mean, among other things, talking to Hamas. And when that happens, you can be sure Dennis Ross will say yes, but it wasn’t the right time in the summer of 2007, which will be more self-serving evasion. The only difference between now, and the moment when the U.S. and Israel recognize reality, will be in how many people’s lives will be ruined .

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15 Responses to The Dissembling of Dennis Ross

  1. Saifedean says:

    Excellent piece, though to be honest, this is still flattering to Dennis Ross. The guy is worthy of much more trashing for his despicable, racist and destructive actions and opinions.

    Norman Finkelstein has provided a very thorough destruction of the guy here:

    As long as someone like him continues to be considered sane in America, there is no chance of peace in Palestine.

  2. Dick Fitzgerald says:

    Why can’t you say that Ross is really working for Israel’s Likud?

  3. ASA says:

    Tony – as always, love your piece. But would love more if you could write something of this nature in your TIME column. These likudniks should be exposed (as unfortunate choice of word – but people in this country are, unfortunately, blind) in the mainstream.

  4. Alex Chaihorsky says:


    Hamas will win precisely because democracy works. Dennis Ros is not the problem – he is just another hired gun. The problem is us, American public who allow the government to hire people like him to represent us in the ME.

  5. Tony, thanks for spotting this piece of– at one level, hilariously funny and revelatory– Dennis Ross argumentation.

    Look at the guy’s great “fact-finding” and reporting methodology! He says he has met and talked to (otherwise undefined and undescribed) “members of Fatah and … Palestinian independents in the West Bank .” In the whole piece, he refers to only two of these people by name: “Abu Kholi, a Palestinian Council member from Gaza [and] Husayn Al-Sheikh, a member of the Tanzim from the West Bank.” Abu Kholi, of course, is either a nom-de-mouvement or a patronymic. It certainly does NOT count as anyone’s real, identifying name…

    Who ARE these people, anyway? Certainly not people with any known track record as either participants in Palestinian politics or analysts of political matters. A “members of the Tanzim”, indeed??

    And then, based on conversations with these two named individuals and the other 38 Palestinians that he claims to have talked to over the past six weeks, Dennis then makes grandiose claims about “the almost unanimous view” among, presumably, Palestinians. And he completely disingenuously tries to make his tough, anti-Hamas arguments in the name of the Palestinians– as against what he claims is the ” fashionable” belief heard “among some in Washington or even Tel Aviv … that it is time to talk to Hamas.”

    Well, as someone who has argued publicly in the US since the elections of January 2006 that those doing Israeli-Arab peace diplomacy need to engage with Hamas, I can assure you this view has never been “fashionable”, either then or now.

    (Tony, it would have been nice if you could’ve linked to either this longer piece of reporting I did from Gaza last year on Hamas, or my more recent blog post titled “Ten Reasons to talk to Hamas.”)

    So, back to Dennis, who I have to admit I like as a person, even though his diplomacy during the whole Clinton era– though not the earlier Bush-1 era, when he had much savvier and on-the-ball political masters– was quite disastrous… The policy recommendations he makes in this piece are very revealing.

    First, he incites Blair to engineer some kind of internal leadership-overthrow process within Fateh? (And yes, as you note, that would only give more power to people far less likely to be US-Israeli cat’s paws. But no doubt he hopes that they, too, can be bought off with hard funding, just as Abu Mazen and co have been thus far.)

    Secondly, he urges that “Fatah must be seen as delivering…. at the local level.” That last point is key. Note that he is absolutely NOT saying the “Fatah must be seen as delivering at the NATIONAL level.” In other words– keep them busy with some little issues of local sanitation or whatever and meanwhile stall on all their demands that their extremely pressing NATIONAL issue be addressed.

    Thirdly, he admits– with wording that seems readily to concede that there could certainly be some legitimate reason to question this– that “there does need to be a sense of possibility about peace with Israel. A process, negotiations, dialogue, and the promise of changes on the ground will count for a lot.”

    Process, negotiations, dialogue, promises: yes, that just about sums up the whole content of the policy that, once he found himself freed from the attentive supervision of Jim Baker in early 1993, Dennis pursued singlemindedly and with absolutely disastrous effect for the whole of the eight years that followed… The years of the “peace-free process”, we could call them.

    Your analysis here is generally fairly good, Tony. But just at this point, “The Saudis and Egyptians hate Hamas, and are threatened by it”, I think you must have the Saudis mixed up with someone else. Why on earth would you imagine that “hate” Hamas and feel threatened by it?

    Otherwise, great job.

  6. Pingback: Jews in denial, part 69 at Antony Loewenstein

  7. Quite entertaining….

    If only it weren’t so tragic in terms of human lives lost to the analysis of those Bethesda bandits playing Palestinian pundits.

  8. Matthew says:

    Clayton: I loved your book. So good it hurt. You really appreciate the power of the memory hole in America when you see how the narrative of CD2 was “repackaged” to help Hillary’s Senate run. Or better yet: That the myths that (a) Palestinians aren’t a “people” or (2) just never lived in Palestine or (3) that Palestine never exisited are coming back to life, vis-a-vis “serious” scholars like Alan Dershowitz and David Horowitz. Next project: Cherokees and Navajos: The lost Candadians?

  9. Well done. You thumb your nose at Stalin (rootless cosmopolitan) and AIPAC in one blog post – anybody who can do that is A-OK by me.

  10. Pingback: Today in Random Thoughts « I’m Not Going to Do This Every Day

  11. lolaone says:

    Tony, This needed to be said years ago. In that case maybe there would have been a Palestinian state by this time. Why do we always send a “negotiator” with “a dog in the fight”? Why not someone like Matthew, who can see in more than one direction? Or Leila? Blinders keep out most of what’s happening around you. When I first saw Dennis Ross with Mr. Holbrook, I saw weasel on his forehead. Sorry, is Weasel a bad way to put this? I loved this analysis, Tony. lolaone

  12. Josh says:

    What a cool blog, I found it by accident but am glad I did

  13. Darrius says:


  14. Nice site you can make this success Tony Karon.

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