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Ross Cautiously Optimistic About Mideast Peace

In response to recent developments in the Middle East, a former American ambassador to Israel spoke yesterday afternoon about the roles that American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders will play in the ongoing peace process.

Ambassador Dennis Ross, who helped shape U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process for more than twelve years during the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, spoke about his experience as a negotiator with Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Syria. His talk was sponsored by Harvard Hillel.

Speaking for about 45 minutes before a mostly older crowd of about 130 in Emerson Hall, Ross discussed the significance of Yassir Arafat’s death and the election of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who is sometimes referred to as Abu Mazen.

“As long as Arafat was there he was an impediment to change,” Ross said. “Abu Mazen is someone who has always been against the violence.”

While Ross expressed tempered optimism about the prospects for peace, he said that Abbas lacks the authority that Arafat alone could wield.

To succeed, “Abu Mazen has to show that his way works, that he’s producing change on the ground,” Ross said.

Ross concluded his speech with a number of suggestions to expedite the peace process, such as securing the cease-fire, weakening the terrorist organization Hezbollah, and providing Palestinians with “labor-intensive projects that put them back to work.”

“Today [the road map] has no meaning except as a slogan,” he said. “We have to define what the obligations actually mean.”

Ross’s comments drew opposition from some who said they found his solutions myopic.

“I thought he gave a short term solution, sort of a crisis management recipe for the situation in Israel-Palestine,” said Amal Alayan, a Palestinian graduate of MIT from Jerusalem who attended the speech.

“Basically I see what happened with the post-interim agreement happening again now—a little more normalcy, but then a relapse again to the same way things happened in 2000,” Alayan said.

Others in the audience were impressed by Ross’s comments.

“I thought he was right on,” said Yaakov M. Roth, a first-year law student.

“I agreed with everything he had to say,” said Ross E. Arbes ‘08, who attended the event. “I thought his emphasis on the short term was important. The next six or nine moths will make or break the situation in Israel-Palestine.”

Ross was introduced by Harvard Hillel President Bernie Steinberg, who lauded the ambassador’s book about peace negotiations, “The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for the Middle East Peace”.

In addition to Harvard Hillel, the Institute of Politics, Harvard Democrats, Harvard Republican Club, Progressive Jewish Alliance, Israel Campus Roundtable, and The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs co-sponsored the event.